Welcome to this month’s Reader Case Study in which we’ll address Emily’s question of where to attend graduate school. Case studies are financial dilemmas that a reader of Frugalwoods sends to me requesting that Frugalwoods nation weigh in. Then, Frugalwoods nation (that’d be you), reads through their situation and provides advice, encouragement, insight, and feedback in the comments section. For an example, check out a previous Case Study.

P.S. Another way to support each other on our financial journeys is by participating in my Uber Frugal Month Challenge! You can sign-up at any time to join the over 11,500 fellow frugal sojourners who have taken the Challenge.

I probably don’t even need to say the following because you all are the kindest, most polite commenters on the internet, but, please note that Frugalwoods is a judgement-free zone where we all endeavor to help one another, not to condemn.

With that I’ll let Emily, this month’s case study subject, take it from here!

Emily’s Story

Emily hiking in the White Mountains of NH

Hi, Frugalwoods Nation! I’m Emily, a 25-year-old single woman living in Washington, DC who grew up in the Midwest. I’ve (unfortunately?) acclimated to the high cost of living here over the past four years but the beer prices at “home” are almost enough to make me move back! I’m doing my best to buck the status quo and keep my expenses low, despite living in one of the highest cost-of-living cities in the country and experiencing the culture/lifestyle that goes along with that. I graduated from a Big Ten school in the Midwest in 2013 with a degree in a combination of sociology, political science, and gender studies.

To save money, I live in a small basement bedroom in a row-house with two roommates, walk to work, pack my lunch every day, split Netflix and Spotify accounts with friends, forego car ownership, host game nights with friends to replace some (but not all) bar and restaurant nights, and track my spending using the You Need A Budget (YNAB) method.

I was raised to think about money as a resource to be stewarded, not wasted. The idea of “putting your money where your mouth is,” or aligning your finances with your values, was a foundational element of my character development, which was modeled by my parents. When I graduated from college my father gave me Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace, Thomas J. Stanley’s The Millionaire Next Door, and Charles Wheelan’s Naked Economics in a process he jokingly referred to as my “graduate degree in personal finance.”

Emily’s Hobbies

Emily hiking with her dad

I’m an outdoorsy beer and personal finance nerd. Working out, reading, and spending time with friends are my favorite pastimes. I attend a free bootcamp class put on by DC Parks and Rec twice a week, work out in my office’s small gym, and have a ClassPass membership that allows me to visit various fitness studios around town five times a month for group classes like boxing and spin. I also love to hike, which I try to do as much as possible.

Travel, education, and giving back are my three priorities that require a significant financial investment. I set aside money each month towards future travel plans and in 2016 I spent $2,700 on travel. I expect to spend more this year as I just returned from Israel and Greece and am taking trips to the Hamptons and Maine this summer. I also travel to the Midwest to see family and friends two to three times a year. I tithe monthly to my church and make a monthly contribution to NPR along with occasional contributions to other charitable causes.

Emily’s Job

I’m currently a program analyst at a social policy research firm in DC. I enjoy my job, but I also foresee the ceiling I’ll hit without a Master’s degree. I was promoted from within the company to my current position, but if I’d been hired from the outside, a Master’s degree would’ve been required.

Thus, I’m already paid as though I have a Master’s degree and I’m already doing “Master’s level” work, but in order to advance more, I’ll need an advanced degree. Not only is my firm and industry academically focused, I also lack certain technical skills that would help me excel in my field, which brings me to my…

Grad School Decision Dilemma

I recently applied to three graduate programs and was accepted to all of them with varying levels of funding. They each have slightly different implications for my current employment, my financial situation, and my future career path.

The park in Emily’s neighborhood

The below table illustrates this further, but the crux of my dilemma is as follows: is it worth leaving a job in my field to pursue a Master’s degree that’s significantly less expensive and will take much less time (at Carnegie Mellon) than an equivalent Master’s degree I can pursue over the course of three years while working full-time (at either Georgetown or Johns Hopkins)?

If I quit my job to pursue my MPP, which is what I’d do if I choose Carnegie Mellon, I’m concerned about losing the momentum I have in my career and about re-entering the job market in 16 months after my program is finished. On the other hand, I’m concerned about spending twice the amount of time and four times the amount of money on the same degree (from Georgetown or Johns Hopkins), just to remain working full-time, which–in all honesty–probably won’t make for a very fun 3 years.

There’s a slim possibility I could work part-time hours (24 hours/week) at my current position–and thus keep my job and benefits–while going to school at either Georgetown or Johns Hopkins. I’ll investigate this possibility thoroughly, but I don’t want to assume this option will pan out.

Paying For Grad School

My parents have generously offered to help pay for my graduate education and I’m cognizant of the extraordinary privilege their financial assistance imbues me with and I want to acknowledge how fortunate I am. That being said, I want to make this decision as though I were spending my own money, even though it’ll likely end up being a mix of mine and theirs.

My parents are incredibly generous when it comes to education and they paid for private Christian schooling through high school and then fully funded my undergraduate degree as well so that I didn’t have to take on any student loan debt. I’m nothing if not blessed.

Where I Want To Be In 10 Years:

  • Finances: I’d like to own a home, double my salary, and be well on the way to having enough money set aside to make unconventional choices when it comes to life and my career. This might be quitting my job to travel for awhile, retiring early, working remotely from abroad, having the flexibility to volunteer, etc. I’m not sure exactly what my life will look like (which does make setting and achieving lofty goals difficult), but I want to create the financial flexibility to follow my own path.
  • Lifestyle: I want to be happy, healthy, and enjoying life with those I’m close to. Maybe I’ll be married and have (or be thinking about having) kids. Maybe I’ll be traveling, investing in close friendships, and still on the lookout for Mr. or Mrs. Right. I want to be financially flexible enough, and have a flexible enough career, that I don’t need to put “working for other people and a paycheck” above investing in my own happiness and the happiness of those around me.
  • Career: I’d like my skill-set and experience to be worth twice as much as they are now (see “double my salary” above), be highly respected in my field, and be doing new, creative, and innovative things. My current career goal would have 35-year-old me designing and testing behavioral interventions in the public policy context to save taxpayer dollars, improve social services, and increase government efficiency.

Grad School Comparison

Below is a comparison of the three graduate programs I’ve been accepted into and am trying to decide between.

School #1: Georgetown University, McCourt School
Degree: Master in Public Policy
Location: Washington, DC
Timing: 3 years, part-time
Employment: Remain employed full-time, living expenses and some tuition covered by salary
Scholarships: -$30,000
Employer Assistance: -$21,000 (my employer offers $5,250/calendar year for tuition only)


School #2: Carnegie Mellon University, Heinz College
Degree: Master of Science in Public Policy and Management
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Timing: 16 month accelerated program, full-time (Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018)
Employment: Would need to quit current job; would likely secure part-time employment to cover living expenses
Scholarships: -$60,959
Employer Assistance: $0


School #3: Johns Hopkins University
Degree: M.S. in Applied Economics with a Certificate in Government Analytics
Location: Online or in-person in Washington, DC
Timing: 2-3 years, flexible timing
Employment: Remain employed full-time, living expenses and some tuition covered by salary
Scholarships: $0
Employer Assistance: -$21,000 (my employer offers $5,250/calendar year for tuition only)

Emily’s Finances

Yearly Take Home (Net) Income

Net Income Amount Notes
Emily’s monthly take-home $3,053.74 After 401k contributions, health insurance, and taxes
Emily’s annual take-home $36,645.00 After 401k contributions, health insurance, and taxes

Monthly Expenses

Item Amount Notes
Rent $788.33 This rent is pretty low for Washington, DC.
Luxuries $350.00 This includes costs like restaurant food, alcohol, concert tickets, random luxuries (new gym bag, haircuts, Kindle, etc.) and any other kind of fun-oriented discretionary spending. I include this as one category because I can offset larger purchases by cutting back in other areas of luxury spending.
Travel $350.00 I put money aside each month for travel.
Donation to Church $305.00 Tax-deductible charitable contribution
Groceries & Personal $255.00 I go out for lunch once a month at most and try to limit other opportunities to dine out. This could be lower but I love grocery shopping, cooking (and eating!), and often host friends for game nights or dinner parties which require provisions. This also includes things like make-up, toiletries, cleaning supplies, etc.
Transportation $125.00 Mix of public transportation and ride sharing. I walk to work.
Cell Phone $67.00 On my parents’ Verizon plan, pay my part of the family plan plus monthly iPhone payment (got a new phone this year) plus extra data since I use most of the data.
Gym ClassPass Membership $59.00 Allows me to take five classes per month at various fitness studios around town.
Clothing $50.00 I put this money aside each month to purchase clothing and shoes. In 2016 I actually spent about $1,000 on clothes but $600/year is my goal. I go through shoes and workout clothing like it’s my job and these end up needing to be replaced frequently.
Utilities $40.00 Share utilities with 2 roommates and we rent out our dedicated parking spot for $100/month which we put toward utilities. This varies throughout the year but averages about $40.
Gifts $40.00 I put this money aside each month to purchase gifts for weddings, Christmas, birthdays, etc.
Medical/Dental $20.00
Donation to NPR $10.00 Tax-deductible charitable contribution
Dropbox $10.00 $99 paid annually, used to store photos and documents
Renters Insurance $9.58 $115 paid annually, required under lease
Netflix + Spotify $8.36
TOTAL monthly: $2,487.27  
TOTAL annually: $29,847.24


Asset Amount Notes
401k $27,000.00 I contribute 20% each month. My company contributes 3-4% at the end of each year (I just received the 2016 contribution) based on corporate profit-sharing calculations. I am also given shares of the company, but I don’t include a valuation of these shares as part of my net worth.
Low-fee index funds (through Betterment) $7,600.00 I contribute $150/month to this investment account. This money is easily accessible in case of emergency.
Tuition Savings $4,600.00 Current savings for education costs.
Next Month Fund $3,053.74 I follow the YNAB method so I use last month’s income for this month’s expenses.
Emergency Fund $2,200.00 I know this is small but I’m comfortable with it as I have other easily accessible funds in savings.
TOTAL: $44,453.74

Emily’s Questions For You:

  1. Where should I go to graduate school? See above comparison chart. Any advice on trying to negotiate for more scholarship funding would also be very much appreciated.
  2. What should my savings and investment strategy be moving forward? My goal for 2018 is to max out my 401k contribution (if I’m not working full-time this goal will be pushed to 2019), and I’m investing in low-fee index funds with Betterment. My next plan is to add Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Investor Shares to my investment mix. Is there a better approach?
  3. How should I save for purchasing a home and is this even the right question? The DC real estate market is insane enough that purchasing a home feels like an unreasonable goal. But whether I buy in DC or elsewhere, I’d like to save for a down payment so that this goal is at least achievable at some point in the future. How would you (or did you) prioritize saving for your first home purchase? Is there anything you did that you would do differently looking back on it?
  4. If you were me, how would you push yourself to save more? I know my budget is flabby, but I’m finding it difficult to reduce my spending further without a concrete goal in mind. This is especially true because I feel like I’m saving more and spending less than most other people my age in DC.

Mrs. Frugalwoods’ Recommendations

Emily on a trip to Boston

Let me begin by saying WOW. At 25, Emily is in a better financial position than many people twice her age. This is an impressive rundown of assets and I commend her for educating herself on what to do with her money. I’m an advocate for managing one’s own money and Emily is a perfect illustration of that philosophy. Also, huge congrats to her for contributing to her employer’s matching 401k program–always the right choice (more on 401ks here). Ok, onto her questions…

Emily’s #1 question: Grad School Showdown

I think we can eliminate Georgetown right off the bat since it’s so much more expensive, yet offers the same location and ability to continue working, as Johns Hopkins. Unless anyone can suggest a way for Emily to secure more scholarship funding, I think G-town is off the table.

My questions for Emily are:

  1. How much do you like your job?
  2. How much do you enjoy living in DC?
  3. Will you definitely earn a higher salary with an MPP?

Moving to PA to attend Carnegie Mellon, while cheaper, would entail giving up her apartment (which, I can attest, is the cheapest rent I’ve ever heard of in DC), leaving her friends (and the excellent hiking–Mr. FW and I lived in DC when our love of hiking blossomed), and quitting a job that I gather she enjoys. Finding a job you love is no easy feat and so I’d pause long and hard before giving it up. Another consideration is that I imagine most (if not all?) of Emily’s job prospects will be in DC and moving to PA for grad school will take away valuable networking opportunities in the district.

Emily says “DC is not a swamp!”

To my third question, I’m pretty sure Emily has already gamed this out, but I just want to confirm that this MA will command a higher salary. In some professions, there’s a clear pay increase with an MA, but in others, there’s not. Without the commensurate pay increase, I would advise forgoing graduate school altogether. I’m saying this more as a general bit of advice since Emily already mentioned that she can’t advance any higher without an MA.

My suggestions are a bit biased here because I attended grad school in Washington, DC (at American University) while working full-time (also at AU because that entitled me to free tuition). So what I will say is that it’s possible–though not terribly fun–to go to school full-time and work full-time. If Emily wants to retain her current job, not have the resume gap of going to grad school, and continue living in DC, it’s possible to do.

Another pro of continuing to work is that Emily would keep her benefits. Since she’ll turn 26 while in grad school, she’ll no longer have the option of hopping on her parents’ health insurance and, if she doesn’t keep her job, she won’t have employer sponsored health care.

All that being said, Johns Hopkins is quite a bit more expensive than Carnegie Mellon. I don’t think Emily has any intention of taking out student loans to cover costs, so again, I offer general advice to not go into debt for a degree program. While I lean towards Johns Hopkins since it would enable Emily to stay in DC, keep her job, and go to an excellent school, the choice is ultimately a personal one and I don’t think there’s a clear cut right or wrong answer.

Emily’s #2 question: Investing

Emily at the Sea of Galilee

I actually advise Emily to pull her money out of Betterment and instead funnel it into low-fee index funds through either Vanguard or Fidelity for the simple reason that Betterment charges higher fees than Vanguard and Fidelity yet does basically the same thing. When investing in low-fee index funds (which is what I recommend and what Emily is wisely doing), it doesn’t matter which company you invest with, the end product (low-fee index funds) is the same.

An index fund simply means that you’re invested across the entire stock market, which is proven to return a higher rate than utilizing a pricey money manager to pick specific stocks for you. This is also the frugal approach to investing since the fees associated with investing in these funds are very low (hence the name ‘low-fee index funds’)–as opposed to that pricey money manager. By investing across the entire market, you’re diversifying your assets and you stand to benefit from any gains in the market.

Emily in Old City Jerusalem

In sum, close the Betterment account and put all your investable cash into either Vanguard’s Total Stock Market Index Fund (VTSAX) or Fidelity’s Total Stock Market Index Fund (FSTVX). No need to go with more than one company–that doesn’t add any diversity to a portfolio. Everyone’s risk profile is different, but I recommend that a young person like Emily heavily weight towards a stock index fund (like the aforementioned VTSAX or FSTVX) as opposed to bonds. For more on investing, check out this post and this one too.

If Emily happens to have substantial capital gains, she should transfer assets from Betterment to Fidelity or Vanguard as opposed to cashing out. If she cashes out her investments, she’ll be charged capital gains tax on any gains her investments have made. However, if her gains aren’t substantial, it might be easier to simply cash out and then reinvest.

And now onto 401ks… By ‘maxing out’ her 401k, I assume Emily is referring to contributing the maximum amount allowed by the IRS, which is $18,000 per year. I’d say this is a fine approach unless she’s serious about buying a house in the near term. If Emily wants to shore up a downpayment in the next five years or so, don’t go all the way to $18k on the 401k and instead save those extra thousands for a downpayment.

Emily’s #3 question: Buy a home?

Should Emily buy a home? It depends. On one hand, buying a home can be a great asset in a diverse portfolio–particularly if that home is in a hot market that’d make it very easy to turn into a rental, such as Washington, DC. That being said, if Emily is interested in living a more nomadic, traveling lifestyle, owning a home might not make sense, unless it’s as a revenue generating rental, which again, DC is a great market for–provided she can find something cheap enough to buy.

Emily on a trip to Mexico

Home ownership can be a good financial choice or a poor one–it’s not a slam dunk decision and it shouldn’t be considered the end all, be all of financial planning. Whether or not to buy depends on a multitude of factors including the housing market where you live, your financial picture, your future plans, and how handy you are since homes are forever in need of one repair or another.

But the one thing that Emily should definitely do is continue saving. Since she specifically asked what others have done, I will say that when we were her age, Mr. FW and I were saving around 50% of our income with the sole goal of buying a home in Cambridge that would one day become a rental property. Saving up enough to buy in a place like DC (or Cambridge) is no small feat–but it is 100% doable for someone like Emily who is debt-free, determined, and already in the habit of saving. I will say though, if she’s serious about buying a house, her savings rate needs to grow, and/or she needs to increase her salary–preferably both. If she’s interested in testing the waters, I’d highly recommend she start cruising open houses on the weekends–it’s fun, it’s educational, and she’ll get a good handle on what the market is like in DC. Mr. FW and I went to over 270 open houses before we bought our first home (see our tips here).

Since the question of whether to buy or not to buy is complex, I’m going to recommend some additional reading to Emily:

Emily’s #4 question: How can I save more?

Emily’s doing a great job, but she can certainly save more if she wants to. The one red flag that jumped off the page at me was her mention of possibly retiring early. If Emily wants early retirement as an option, then saving at a higher rate (alongside a higher salary) will be necessary. But I do want to back up and give some mad props here since we’re talking about a TWENTY-FIVE year old with a net worth of $44,453!!! I mean, please, this woman knows what she’s doing. So, I highly doubt my savings advice will come as a surprise to her.

How Emily could save more:

  • Eliminate the “luxuries” category as well as the gym ClassPass, especially after becoming a student since she’ll likely have free access to the university’s gym.
  • If Emily wanted to save in service of a specific goal, I’d reduce the charitable contributions slightly as well as the travel fund. This would be applicable if, for example, she wanted to save up a downpayment in a shorter period of time.
  • The transportation line item seems a tad high. Since she already walks to work, I’d recommend perhaps biking other places if that’s possible.
  • Decrease or eliminate the clothing line item (shop used, trade clothes with friends, etc)
  • Research cheaper cell phone providers, such as Boom (I pay $19.99/month through Boom), Ting, or Republic Wireless.

Savings Accounts Side Note

One of the easiest ways to optimize your money is to keep it in a high-interest savings account. With these accounts, interest works in YOUR favor (as opposed to the interest rates on debt, which work against you). Having money in a no (or low) interest savings account is a waste of resources because your money is sitting there doing nothing. Don’t let your money be lazy! Make it work for you! And now, enjoy some explanatory math:

  • Let’s say you have $5,000 in a savings account that earns 0% interest. In a year’s time, your $5,000 will still be… $5,000.
  • Let’s say you instead put that $5,000 into an American Express Personal Savings account that–as of this writing–earns 1.70% in interest. In one year, your $5,000 will have increased to $5,085.67. That means you earned $85.67 just by having your money in a high-interest account.

And you didn’t have to do anything! I’m a big fan of earning money while doing nothing. I mean, is anybody not a fan of that? Apparently so, because anyone who uses a low (or no) interest savings account is NOT making money while doing nothing. Don’t be that person. Be the person who earns money while sleeping. Rack up the interest and prosper. More about high-interest savings accounts, as well as the ones I recommend, here: The Best High Interest Rate Online Savings Accounts.


Emily on a hike near DC

Emily is concerned that she doesn’t have a total life plan figured out yet, but I wouldn’t worry about that at all. I certainly didn’t have my life mapped out at her age!

And the reason I’m not worried about Emily is that she has identified the crucible of financial truth–the one thing that I hope readers of Frugalwoods will take away from my crazy ramblings–the fact that FRUGALITY GIVES YOU OPTIONS.

Frugality doesn’t have to be in service of a concrete goal (such as buying a house), frugality can be in service of living a life like Emily’s: unencumbered by debt, free to travel, free to work a job she genuinely enjoys, free to max out her 401k, free to invest, and free to live whatever life it is that she chooses.

If in 10 years Emily wants to be a stay-at-home mom, she’ll probably be financially able to do that. If in 10 years, Emily wants to start her own company, she’ll probably be financially able to do that. If in 10 years, Emily decides to become a professional hiker and backpacking guide, she’ll probably be financially able to do that. Frugality is the universal belief that no one has ever regretted having money in the bank. It’s also the belief that happiness, and lasting joy, doesn’t actually come from spending money at all.

Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice would you give to Emily? She and I will both reply to comments, so please feel free to ask any clarifying questions!

Would you like your own case study to appear here on Frugalwoods? Email me (mrs@frugalwoods.com) and we’ll talk.

Updated May 26, 2017 with Emily’s decision:

I made my decision–I’ll be going to Carnegie Mellon in the fall! I attended an event a few weeks ago at Carnegie Mellon’s DC office where I learned about their “DC Track” of the program. In this track, the first year is classes in Pittsburgh and the second year is classes in DC plus a 32 hour/week “apprenticeship.” This appealed to me because: 1) I was feeling less thrilled about leaving DC than I originally thought, 2) 90% of the apprenticeships are PAID (woohoo!), and 3) It would cut down on my time out of the workforce, even though I would be in classes for a semester longer than the 16-month track.  Hearing from the Frugalwoods community was key in helping me think about this choice in the broadest terms, and to challenge my preconceived notions about what I valued in a program and why. Thank you so much!


Updated 1/18/19 with more info from Emily:

My net worth hasn’t gone up much in the past 2 years, but I am in excellent financial shape for what I’ve been able to accomplish in the last two years since doing the Case Study! I started graduate school at Carnegie Mellon (3 semesters down, 1 to go) and was able to live off my investments for my 9 months in Pittsburgh [MAJOR caveat that my parents paid my rent, health insurance, and tuition (85% off though so it wasn’t crazy expensive!)]. I also spent 2 weeks in Southeast Asia over my winter break, and used travel-hacking tips from TravelMiles101 to do it on the cheap (and without going into debt of course).
I had the chance to do an awesome summer internship that recruits directly from my program (and not from the other 2 programs I was considering when doing my case study!) and that paid $1,250 PER WEEK for 8 weeks of the summer. I also got an offer to go back to that company after graduation with a starting salary of $97,000/year AND with a $20,000 signing/relocation bonus. This company also pays you back for what you spent on your second year of grad school after you’ve been there for 2 years, so I’ll be able to pay my parents back for what they spent on my tuition during school.
I’m currently working 32 hours/week for $25/hour in a position that is exactly what I need to be doing and learning during this second year of grad school which has been an amazing opportunity. The money coming in right now doesn’t allow me to save or really put money away but I still feel like I’m doing well because I haven’t dipped into my signing bonus and I haven’t taken on any debt. I’m definitely looking forward to graduating this upcoming May!

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  1. Congrats on having so many options! Sounds like you are in a great place.

    What is the difference between the types of degrees? Will they all help you equally in making the next step in your career?

    One important consideration for grad school is what types of job opportunities are likely to come from the different programs. I would do some digging regarding where alumni have found work/have strong connections, as that may impact your career path going forward (and may help tip the balance towards one school vs. the others).

    1. I haven’t looked into alumni networks and post-grad job opportunities as much as I should have–that’s great advice and I am going to do that! I’ve been so focused on the logistical challenges and looking at it from where I’m sitting now (in a job I enjoy) that I haven’t thought about it from the “I’m done, now what?” perspective.

    2. I agree with Elizabeth’s advice. Ask the school for some contacts in last year’s graduating class to see how they’ve done finding jobs. And talk to some successful grads to see if they will help you find opportunities once you graduate.

      1. I’d also do an “environmental scan” of my industry/company. If the majority of grads are from School X vs. School Y, that’s important information.

        As a Pittsburgh native, I have to say, Pittsburgh is a very inexpensive place to live, especially compared to DC (where I lived briefly in the 1980s). Believe me, the hills are plenty steep enough so that you’ll feel like you’re hiking! Good luck. Mrs. FW is right in that this is not a cut-and-dried decision.

  2. Hot damn! If I was only in half this good of shape as a 29-year-old grad, I’d be overjoyed.

    I was in a bit of a similar position with my degree. I had a BS in Wildlife Biology, but that won’t get you far in that field. An MS is the required ticket, and nowadays it’s more of a PhD that’s required for any of the jobs I’d really, really want. So, I went to school for an MS and would eventually like to return for a PhD someday, but it’s not in the cards at the moment.

    I’d advise against Carnegie Mellon, for the simple reason that it’d take you away from your current job. In my field, it’s common to go for a PhD while already employed, but it takes several years longer, and so a lot of people advise against it. I never understood that; the reasons to get an advanced degree is so you can have a dang job and get a better wage. Jobs are fickle things (I’m 2.5 years out from getting my MS and not working in my field at all as I’d hoped), and if you’ve already got that piece of the equation secured, then why worry about it taking longer?

    As far as which remaining school to go to – JH or Georgetown – one is clearly cheaper (JH), by almost $11,000. After that, they seem to be pretty much equal time-wise. Which degree do you see being more useful to you – the MP or the MS? Can you see either university having an advantage in terms of a networking program? Sadly, I don’t have any tips on negotiating tuition (my school paid for my degree and my living stipend), other than to root out all the nooks and crannies for scholarships.

    You’re also right; working full-time AND going to school part-time wouldn’t make for a fun three years. But is it worth it in the long run?

    1. That’s an extremely good point, and one that I keep coming back to! I have a job I really enjoy and is in the field I want to be in. I want to focus more specifically on behavioral science policy research but I need a degree and a bit more experience to accomplish that, so not worrying about how long the graduate degree will take makes a lot of sense.

      I think the MPP is more specifically tailored to what I want to do. I think I can get the skills I need from the MS + Certificate, but it will require more of an explanation on my part in job interviews, and doesn’t as clearly identify my resume as someone who is serious about policy. I’m spoiled because many people in my current workplace have done both the Georgetown and JHU programs, and recommend them, so I feel like both have strong networks but that might not be the case outside of my workplace.

      1. I just wanted to pop in to comment that you should definitely push through getting your degree while working at the same time. I took off 4 years from working (and was actually paid to pursue my Ph.D., ~$25k/year) while my husband worked full-time while pursuing his Ph.D. The difference in our career trajectories 5 years out from our degrees is a big deal. My husband was promoted while he was in school, and I started from scratch with only getting into a higher position 4 years post-graduation.

        I won’t highlight the discrepancy in our assets either…

      2. I’m a fellow DC resident with a spouse (and MANY friends) in the think tank world. The biggest issue I saw from folks who went to these schools (Hopkins, Gtown, UMD) is that those who aggressively pursued internships during the semester (in addition to summer gigs) and kept up their professional network were much more successful in getting better jobs after grad school. This doesn’t mean you have to stay in your current job if you’re looking for a career switch (e.g. from one type of social policy work to another), and if anything, grad school is an amazing time to have a bunch of new career experiences. But it still ends up feeling/looking like working full time and being in school full time, you just get to change jobs every few months and add a few institutions to your resume. (in DC, this matters).

        MPP/MS/etc. degrees are a dime a dozen here, so the only big boost you get is actually diversifying your resume (or continuing to rack up accomplishments at work, which, if you like your job, I think is the best bet). Otherwise, this is mostly a degree to get a few new skills and have a piece of paper. no one will actually care if it’s a social policy degree vs. a public policy degree, they just want a degree.

        congrats on your options!

        1. Agree 100% with DCist! MS is an MS – it’s letters after your name. Check off the box as fast as you can, as inexpensively as possible, if the goal is career advancement. It can be at UMD, part on line, etc. Hopkins vs. a state school is not going to matter at all. If you goal is life experiences, then take the leisurely route and do something more creative, but please do keep in mind that $40K in that area is really tough. (How did you find your rent ??? wow 🙂
          Our hiring focuses on experiences – life and work – and skills (especially soft skills these days….). So keeping your on-the-job work current is really important, especially for a Master’s degree (vs. a PhD, where basically you work through school).
          Also, agree with others, cut the lifestyle, and you can save your tuition faster…. I know, I know, lifestyle is everything in that area, but you’ve seen the other side in the midwest and with your Dad’s gift books, right? Be conservative now, and you will have SO MANY MORE CHOICES later! It is worth it, I promise you!
          You’re doing great, and best of luck to you!

  3. I am currently working full-time and attending school part-time for my MBA, so I feel like I can answer this. First, you really have to think about how quickly you want to get your master’s. If you are already doing work in the field you love, and won’t change jobs after getting your degree, there is no need to leave your company or get your degree more quickly.

    You noted that at Johns Hopkins you’ll be able to complete with flexible timing, remain employed full-time, and some tuition would be covered by salary. Do you know if you employer would reimburse you for any of your tuition? That might help. Also, if you’re able to go more slowly and remain working full-time, you’ll be able to continue investing and saving for your other goals. Personally, I am only taking one class at a time, and am limiting myself to the $5k per year that my company reimburses me. This is a good balance for me.

    Another thing you’ll need to consider with working and going to school is the other responsibilities and chores in your life. For example, I find that on my school days, it’s best to cook dinner in the crock-pot or plan a simple meal. I also try to plan events with friends and family during my breaks so that I’m not overly stressed during the periods when I’m in school. It’s also important to remember to give yourself a break. I tend to do all of my schoolwork on the weekends so that I can still relax most nights during the week.

    1. I also worked full time and completed an MBA slowly. I used the tuition reimbursement from my employer with just a little bit out of pocket to graduate without debt. Do you intend to remain at the same employer after completing your master’s degree or do you intend to seek other job responsibilities? Some employers will require a certain number of years commitment after paying your tuition or you will risk reimbursing them.

      If you’re planning to go to a new employer, I suggest doing some informational interviews to get some insight into what they will be looking for in a candidate. It may lean you to one university versus the another.

      1. Agree – my company requires at least one year of service for tuition reimbursement and my previous company did not but did require grades.

        1. My company doesn’t require any commitment after paying my tuition; but I am required to get a C or better in each class for reimbursement. Which, I have to say, is another reason to do it slowly: when things get crazy at work, I don’t stress as much because I’m only taking one class at a time. This would be more difficult if I were taking a heavier course load.

          1. I’m also working full-time and working towards an MBA slowly. If it’s possible to stretch out the three-year program for longer, then you’ll get more in tuition reimbursement. Plus less of a chance for a burn-out. I’m taking one class at a time and still manage to have some free time for socializing, hiking, hobbies. I can probably handle 2 or 3, but I’m stretching the tuition reimbursement (mine is similar to yours), and frankly, I want to have a life. If you enjoy the job you have, I would really, really suggest keeping it. It is tough to find a job at a company you truly enjoy and if you quit the job to go to school, you may end up with a better-paying job but the company you end up with may make you miserable.

  4. Congratulations, Emily, on all of the successes you’ve experienced so far! You are doing a great job, and I agree with a lot of Mrs. Frugalwoods’s advice. Some things to consider:

    1. I know YNAB has some kind of partnership with Betterment and that they tend to advise their products in the YNAB materials. I highly agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods that you would be better off managing your own money through Vanguard. Products like Betterment are really for people who don’t have the money management skills to figure this out on their own, and you clearly have those skills.

    2. If you’re currently paying the $60/year for YNAB, know that they have a student version for anyone with a valid university ID. It’s the same product, but free. We use this since my husband is currently pursuing a doctoral degree.

    3. I don’t necessarily think you have to eliminate the clothing budget completely, especially since you’re still young in your career and are probably building a professional wardrobe. (Plus if you’re an avid sports enthusiast, taking care of your feet with good quality shoes is important.) I’d look to make sure that you aren’t buying trendy pieces that will go out of style quickly but that you’re instead purchasing good-quality investment items that will last you the next 10+ years of your career.

    4. If you can keep a job you like while going to grad school, that would be optimal. For that reason, I think Johns Hopkins is your best bet. I used to work for a professional master’s program, and our students who were working full-time frequently commented on how helpful it was to be able to apply what they were learning in the classroom to their jobs. It’s much easier to find a job when you already have one; keeping your current job will allow you to continue building your resume while making yourself more marketable for the next step.

    Best of luck to you! It sounds like you have a good head on your shoulders and are in fantastic financial shape.

    1. Thanks Lisa!

      I think you and Mrs. Frugalwoods are right about Vanguard. 🙂

      I have the “YNAB Classic” software which was a one-time purchase, so I don’t have to pay for it annually. This is a great tip for others though, so thank you!

      I made the mistake of buying cheaper, more trendy pieces for my work wardrobe when first starting out. I’m trying to replace them with high-quality investment items like you suggest. Even though I know the cost-per-use will be low since they’re high-quality, the price tags still freak me out!

      1. Ah, yes, there are so many great features of YNAB4, though nYNAB is starting to catch up! My husband and I are considering regressing to YNAB4 once his free trial is up. We don’t use the credit card/bank syncing features of nYNAB so most of its appeal is lost on us.

        Shopping end of season sales is a great way to build up your wardrobe going forward but to also avoid paying full-retail. Additionally, since you live in a major metropolis, you might be able to find consignment shops with great quality clothing at much lower prices. Unfortunately for me, I need specialty sizes, which makes consignment shopping difficult to impossible, but if you’re closer to “standard,” you can probably find items that work for you!

        1. Seconded on consignment for work clothes. My mom and sister’s friends also give me clothes, which I am allowed to donate if I don’t keep. I usually end up selling them on consignment if I don’t keep them and then I can buy things I want. Most stores only have like new items so it is cheaper and still nice quality.

      2. The Limited closed all their brick-and-mortar stores but I’m pretty sure they are still online. I bought 2 skirts (gray and black) and their black exact stretch pants (these are professional pants that feel like yoga pants and I’m obsessed. You must get them!!!) I wear these three bottoms with 10 blouses and this creates 30 outfits – 1 a month! I bought most of these items over a period of 2 years about 5 years ago and they still look brand new. I wash them after a few wears in these garment bags from Bed Bath and Beyond (to protect them from my workout clothes in the wash) https://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/store/product/real-simple-reg-wash-bags-set-of-2/1017449419?Keyword=laundry+bag. I can’t recommend this method enough. I haven’t bought work clothes in a few years. Black and gray pencil skirts are classic!

        1. I was SO sad to learn The Limited had closed (their website is down now as well). Those exact stretch pants were amazing and I found mine on major sale 5 years ago – wearing them today.

      3. Try to find a higher end consignment shop in an upscale area of D.C. They should carry quality, work appropriate clothing. There is one in Dallas that will ship purchases made online that you might want to consider. They regularly send 40-50% off codes to email subscribers. Many items still have the original price tags on them. https://clotheshorseanonymous.com Good luck!

        1. Secondi was always my favorite consigment shop in DC – on Connecticut Ave (Dupont Circle area). I am now convinced this is the way to shop – especially for professional items. Just found a “like new” designer black blazer at my local shop for $45. I’ll have it forever.

  5. As a heads up, your charitable contributions are only tax deductible if you itemize on Schedule A. At your income level and not owning a house, I’m pretty sure you do not itemize and therefore you get NO income tax deduction for your charitable contributions.

    School is too much of a personal decision, but personally I’d definitely go the Pittsburgh route. Bang it out in 16 months, the cheapest option, and new cities are always a fun adventure for me.

    1. You’re correct Fervent Finance–I don’t currently itemize because the standard deduction ends up being better for me at the moment.

      You’re reflecting some of my general feelings about this decision in what you would do–the idea of doing a degree fast and cheap while trying out someplace new is alluring. Whereas the idea of going at it slow+steady is less alluring, but feels more practical. Ah! Hence why I’m excited to have you all weigh in.

  6. I agree that Emily is in a great position! It seems to make sense to stay in D.C. if that’s where she wants to work in the long-term, and opt for the less expensive of the two degree programs there. The part-time work option seems worth exploring.

    I imagine Emily’s charitable contributions are made on principle and she might not be comfortable cutting back there. Once she is in grad school and working she may not have as much time for some of the “luxury” expenses of going out, traveling, hosting, etc. so it may be quite easy to cut back in those areas. Biking seems like a great option to explore, too!

  7. Emily: You are fabulous! As a woman old enough to be your mother, I am so proud of you! I would keep my job and go to grad school in D.C. since you already have a good job, and I feel that D.C. would offer a springboard to a better job in the future. As to which school in D.C., all I know is that my cousin went to Georgetown Law School and it opened up doors to her. I know that John Hopkins is a fine medical University, which a relative consulted with for cancer. I defer to your inner knowledge of the two schools, and Ms. Frugalwoods inside knowledge of D.C., since I have never lived there. I am sure both schools are fine. Good luck and God bless!!!

    1. I forgot to say, that years ago (early 1980’s) I worked full time, and went to law school at night. My day job helped me tremendously in my career. As I now approach retirement age, I am so grateful that I worked, and went to law school at the same time. It was not easy, but it has proven to have been the right decision, as time as passed. Good luck!

  8. Just a question here – In the beginning of your question intro, you mentioned that you want to go to grad school for 2 reasons -improve technical skills you would need to advance as well as getting the letters after your name that you feel you would need to advance further. Would having the skills but not the degree allow you to advance in your career and salary without the degree itself? For example, are there certificate programs or continuing education courses that would put you in a better career position that would cost less and take less time? Or that your company would cover a greater portion of? In many industries the non-degree certs are just as or more important than the degrees you have! Also, be sure that if you accept your company’s tuition reimbursement that you understand any conditions associated with that $$. Many companies require you to stay for x years or months after they pay for coursework.

    Before you make a decision about grad school for the fall or buying a house, i would think long and hard about where you want to physically be in 5 years. If you still want to be in DC and at your current job, it may make more sense to choose Johns Hopkins and/or purchase a home. If you are not sure where you want to be in a few years, I would lean toward the less expensive Carnegie Mellon degree and continuing to rent so that you have more options and are a bit more mobile to explore new job offers after graduation.

    Good luck!

    1. Awesome, Emily!! Rebecca makes excellent points about certifications and continuing education. You may be able to reach your goals without a full masters degree. Also, as you discuss tuition reimbursement with your employer, find out if PAID TIME OFF for classwork is an option. Some employers will see the value of springing you a few hours a week to bring those new skills back to the office. Can’t hurt to ask.

  9. Well done, Emily! I wish I had been as financially savvy when I was 25.

    The big thing that I did not see addressed in your comparison table of prospective schools was the reputation of the program. You want the best program at the best institution. I don’t know what that is, being in a totally different field, but I do know how critical it can be in opening doors.

    If you work in policy I can’t see a good reason for leaving DC and the networking opportunities.

    Good luck!

    1. Thanks Turia!

      And good point–I only applied to schools with good reputations. Carnegie Mellon is ranked #8 and Georgetown is at #15, but it’s a newer program and the rankings are a bit old, so basically both programs have great reputations. I would be pleased to have either program on my resume, although Carnegie Mellon’s reputation does outweigh Georgetown’s in my book. So if we’re keeping score, Carnegie Mellon gets the point for reputation.

      Johns Hopkins’ program is in a different boat (applied econ vs. public policy) but has a good reputation as well, at least in DC. The school receives (and blasts out to students and alumni) many requests to share job postings that would be a good fit for Applied Econ students and alums. It is, however, a part-time only program. This can affect how it’s viewed (I’m told), and I’m not sure what the program’s reputation is outside of DC. In addition, the jobs they blast out to students and alumni aren’t exactly the kinds of jobs I would be seeking. The degree (plus certificate) would give me a lot of the technical skills I need, but it’s not an exact fit for the field I want to pursue. This also means the alumni community may not be as helpful for opening doors as the two more public policy-specific institutions.

      1. At your age, it is probably best to do the MPP route, especially If applied economics is not what you’re looking to do. Having a more general degree will give you more options for changes in the future. And a few years from now you may regret doing the economics degree if it is just to save the 10K. In the public policy world it is the SAIS program at Johns Hopkins that has the stellar reputation. So if this degree is not through SAIS it might not be as reputable as doing Georgetown. when you’re working, doing part time studies in a degree that interests you is a great luxury that you give to yourself. Approach it that way, and you will be happy to put time and money toward it that are now going toward dining out, Netflix, travel, etc

      2. when you’re working, doing part time studies in a degree that interests you is a great luxury that you give to yourself. Approach it that way, and you will be happy to put time and money toward it that are now going toward dining out, gym, Netflix, travel, etc

    1. Thanks Gwen! My cheap rent is essentially the main thing that allows me to contribute 20% to my 401k.

      P.S. We follow each other on Twitter and I’m fascinated by your property-purchasing tales!

  10. Something to consider: Juggling part-time grad school and full-time work is not for everyone. I should know; I tried it and decided it wasn’t for me. My day job is very demanding and stressful and I found that I simply did not have the time and energy to take even one (4-hour) night class per week, plus the 10 hours per week of homework/reading that was required. Very little time was left for my hobbies, social life, exercise, etc. I was miserable and ended up dropping the master’s to just focus on work. It would’ve been different if I had a low-stress, 9-5 job, though, which might be Emily’s situation.

  11. I would recommend staying in the job while getting the degree.
    1) The level of the school is probably not as important here. Your not going for contacts at Harvard, your going to get a good degree to boster your career while you build your contacts at work. As such a moderate level school is acceptable. Has she considered cheaper schools in the DC area?
    2) By staying at work you keep health care. That will more then make up the cost difference of the schools. Health care is going to be more then 10K a year. The cost difference between the Hopkins and Carnegie becomes less then 7K after factoring that in. Is the risk of being unemployed for 6 months greater then 7K?
    3) Is there any sort of residency discount for DC? Could she hold off another year or so and get in state tuition at a DC university lowering her costs?

    1. Don’t most universities have health care for students? As a graduate student (in my 30s), I was on the university’s health insurance plan. It was a low cost plan. We had a health center on campus (very convenient) and only had to go off campus for specialty care. In my case, I was referred off campus to have a baby!

  12. Emily, since you have indicated you have some knowledge of Dave Ramsey’s philosophies, I would advise you are taking on too much at once. If your decision is to go to grad school, travel, investing and purchasing a house need to be back-burnered until you complete grad school, debt free. One thing at a time! Intensity of focus is what will make u succeed in one step. Once that is done, move onto the next important goal! Follow Dave’s steps in order! Best of luck to you!

    1. Phew–that is a good point! If you can’t tell, I’m a type-A personality and love pushing myself to get things done. I also have a (maybe inaccurate) view that I can “DO IT ALL”! Financially, I absolutely agree that I shouldn’t spread myself too thin across my goals. But my personality is such that I want to achieve all these goals and I want to achieve them all right now!

      Purchasing a house has been naturally pushed to the back-burner for me, and based on Mrs. Frugalwoods’ recommendations and y’all’s thoughts, I’m starting to think that’s okay. I can’t achieve all my goals at the same time (without making a lot more money!) so I need to strategize and prioritize.

  13. Congratulations Emily! You are definitely on the right path and seem to have thought everything out. In terms of scholarship negotiating, I can tell you what worked for me. I graduated from undergrad last May and decided to go directly to graduate school for Museum Studies (an M.A. is necessary in this field). I applied to Georgetown, George Washington, Johns Hopkins, and Baylor. After being accepted to all four, I had a hard time weighing the pros and cons. Mainly the difference in programs and the difference in scholarship. I felt that being in DC or close to DC, with a wealth of museums and a well-known, established program would better prepare me. Unfortunately, all three of those school gave me the least financial aid and scholarship money. I actually turned down all four acceptances in mid-April. By early May, I knew I had made the wrong mistake. I reached out to the program director at Baylor explaining my fear of adding to my current loans and my desire to continue in this field. She understood and gave me full tuition remission, a graduate assistantship, and a work study. I believe I never would have gotten such a good deal without laying out my fears over accumulating more loans and asking for help. Good luck! I hope this helps.

    1. This is extremely helpful, thank you! Had you spoken with the program director before reaching out in May? I’m not sure exactly who to reach out to and what the best medium is–phone call, email, or in-person. Do you have any thoughts on this?


      1. I currently work in academia, and I’d suggest reaching out to the program director to discuss your concerns. She can then point you towards resources available, whether those are some sort of graduate assistantship or the financial aid office. She might also know of additional scholarships or donors that might be able to assist you.

  14. If your ultimate goal is to live and work in DC, I would recommend your university work be at one of the two DC choices. You will continue to have a steady income, you will have the benefits, you will have seniority, you will have the possibility of promotion from within. Any university networking that you do will be applicable to the DC area. You won’t need to give up your rental situation and then come back later to find something that costs much more. I did the college work for my bachelors degree while working full-time. It took me five years, but at the end of that time I had no student loan debt, had no lapse in employee benefits, and continued to build my seniority at my place of employment. It did require a great deal of focus and schedule structure, but I do not regret doing it that way.

  15. I think the 1 of the 2 DC options would be better. This would enable her to stay where it sounds like she’s happy. What would happen if she dropped down to 24 hours a week to her budget? That would be a good question.
    I am starting graduate school in September. All I can say is that I am glad it is in Nursing because all total it will be much, much lower than an MA. But not being afraid of hard work is what will help her fulfill her dreams.

  16. Hmmm…I wonder whether leaving her job & relocation expenses would make attending school in Pittsburgh more pricey than the numbers we’re seeing (tuition only)?
    As someone who accidentally spent a bunch of money getting an MS, I anowledge the fact that, in many fields, work experience trumps education. This seems to not be the case for Emily, but I would hate to see her leave a job & city that she likes and lose the career momentum that she’s built up. Also, if she wants to work in federal policy, DC seems like the right place to be (for the networking and other opportunities you’ve highlighted).

  17. You have done really well for yourself thus far Emily, so well done!

    Though I lean towards you working full time while you get your masters, I have never done anything like that myself, have no idea how hard it would be, so will let others who have walked that path guide you.

    Consider me one more vote for getting out of Betterment.

    About your other questions:

    1. Remember to keep an eye on your asset allocation across all your accounts, not just within one account.
    2. I would continue to max out your 401k as long as you can. You can’t get back any pre-tax space that you forgo now, so don’t give it up.
    3. As far as a house goes, ask and answer the question “why am I buying this house”. You don’t have to own one. Even if you do need to own one, you don’t have to own it at 25. You can own it at 35, during your peak earning years, when you don’t have to give u p 401k savings in order to save for a down payment. Maybe your future life partner will want a say in where you both will live.

  18. I vote for the more broad John Hopkins degree for sure, and not just based on cost. I worked full time while earning my MBA and it wasn’t nearly as painful as I anticipated (especially with the aid of some online classes) and kept my career on track. As someone who is currently out of the workplace raising my kids, I am very glad I chose an MBA rather than a more specific degree. There will be many more jobs I can choose from should I decide to (or need to) reenter the job market down the road. I could be in a real bind with a more specific degree waiting for jobs to open (especially if there have been shifts in that industry) while missing other good opportunities. In addition, I have several friends with Master’s degrees who took career breaks to raise families, and few of us are interested in returning to exactly the same field we left. Our interests have changed since our 20’s and we are all wanting to try new things.

  19. Emily, I’d cut that $350/mo budget towards travel to something closer to $350/yr, and make up the difference with travel hacking. Sign up for free course on this here: http://www.travelmiles101.com/ (this is not my course).

    I think your luxuries category is high. $4200 a year? Really take a second look at this.
    You transportation category is really high considering you walk to work.
    There are much cheaper cell phone options as Mrs. Frugalwoods mentioned, but it would definitely mean getting off that family plan.

    Also, take advantage of the 529 tax loophole: http://www.fiby40.com/2015/01/22/the-529-tax-loophole-only-for-those-who-pay-for-educational-expenses/ That’s my own blog post. If it’s unclear let me know and I will definitely edit it!
    Looks like for DC there’s a $4k a year tax deduction available for single filers, with a five year carryforward of excess contributions (but the carryforward is useless if you leave DC).
    And your parents can do this too by setting up a 529 with you as the beneficiary.

    This is not really advice, but are you sure your donations are actually tax deductible? You need to overcome the standard deduction of $6300 (for 2016 tax year) for itemized deductions, which is where charitable donations reside, to actually take effect. Based on your take home pay and a DC income tax calculator, your “state” taxes paid are about $2200. Adding that to your charitable donations only gets us to $5980. Are there more itemized deductions or is my estimate of your state taxes paid off?

    I agree you should move out of Betterment. Betterment does add value with tax loss harvesting. Given enough time, the vast majority of your portfolio’s value will be concentrated in your oldest shares that have very large unrealized capital gains, which can NEVER be tax loss harvested (barring a complete economic collapse, in which case, your investment portfolio’s value is the least of your worries). However, they charge an extra 0.15% (or whatever it was) on your ENTIRE portfolio, including the shares that can’t ever to TLH’d.
    Just transfer to Vanguard (or Fidelity or Schwab if you prefer).

    I don’t think people should be buying homes unless they’re ready to “settle down”, or they’re looking to rent it out. It’s a lot of hassle to buy and sell a home, and having to deal with any repairs yourself. Furthermore there’s a significant opportunity cost to the 20% down payment you’re going to need (unless you pay PMI, but that’s expensive).

  20. What no one else has mentioned is your comment on maybe returning to the Midwest. I think people get sucked into life in a big city and high paying jobs that they forget there are incredible job opportunities in smaller towns or regional centres that don’t get the quality of applicants because people are looking only to the big city. Purchasing a house would be way more in your league, you’d save on the cost of 2or 3 trips back each year and instead could use those to travel to other cities and explore. I think going to the school in PA would help ‘break’ you from the DC environment, which would help you decide if you truly miss it or if you find you don’t as much as you expect. Dig in to school, get as much out of the whole experience rather than feeling very stressed trying to do it all, and then figure out where you might next head. Plus, if your job promoted you, they might very well be open to having you back after you complete school f that’s what you decide.

    1. This is definitely something I’ve spent time thinking about. I think I’ve done an okay job of not getting too sucked into the negative aspects of the “DC environment,” but being in DC is definitely a way of life that is different from a lot of the rest of the country. I love my Midwest roots, but it’s the kind of place I’m thinking of “settling down” in, and that’s probably not on the horizon for at least a few years.

      Living in Pittsburgh for awhile would definitely answer that question or if I’m ready for the “DC chapter” of my life to be done or not, but I also don’t want to leave something I know I enjoy for something I’m not sure if I’ll enjoy! That’s a positive aspect of the Pittsburgh track though, for sure.

      It would be quite difficult to be re-hired at my company after completing my Masters, and even if that could happen, it would probably just be at the same level/salary/title I’m at now, so not a step up.

      1. HI Emily M – You’re in such a unique spot that you can appreciate both worlds. I grew up in the DC area, and the experience was priceless – free museums, art, music, culture, politics, and cosmopolitan with a wide mix of people. One-in-a-lifetime trips for many people were weekend visits for us. I went to grad school in the midwest, loved it, and then moved back to the east coast I-95 corridor/fast-paced life. I am now 40 and living in the midwest again, and enjoy a “more reasonable”, quieter life with horses and gardens, and NO commute, NO traffic, and so much more casual as far as lifestyle is concerned.
        – All that said, I would not have appreciated the midwest nearly as much 10 years ago – I loved the energy and exposure to what is going on in the world. It colors how I see life in the midwest quite a bit. It’s always there for you if/when you’re ready to have a quieter home base… Good luck!

  21. Hi Emily – So many choices!
    As someone who has watched her friends pursue designations and masters degrees while working full time, it SUCKS spending years of your life with courses to do and constantly wanting to go to social events that you can’t. It also makes dating difficult. In your 20s you should still have the energy required, but ripping off the bandaid and doing the expedited program is really attractive from a timeline perspective. Plus it means you can fully engage with the course material and student life opportunities. It also has the benefit of being the least expensive program. There’s a big caveat to that though, in that your foregone income should really be added to the cost of attending the full time program.

    Is there any chance your employer would be willing to hold your job for you and offer it to someone on a contract basis while you are gone? That is likely a stretch, but perhaps worth asking?

    Good luck making your choice!

  22. Did you also apply to the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton? It’s an MPA, two year program and is fully funded. You could always defer a year at the one you choose and see if you can get accepted to WWS next year! My husband and I both went there and had an amazing experience. Plus we graduated debt free and didn’t have to work while in school! I know Princeton has a snobby reputation but the WWS people are the nicest, most supportive you’ll ever meet, I promise! Good luck!!

    1. That program requires more experience than I currently have, so wouldn’t be an option.

      And I already feel a little bit behind on the grad school train, so I’m planning to begin in the fall with one of these 3 programs.


      1. The MPP program does, but not the two year MPA! They are the same program but one is a one year for mid career people and the other is for 2-7 years of experience. For what it’s worth, I started school at 29, finishing at 31… 🙂 (I completely understand feeling behind on the train, although you aren’t!!, but will leave this here in case it helps others who are looking at public policy programs.)

  23. Another comment from someone old enough to be your mother….If you love the job…go to Hopkins…if the job isn’t leading you to what you see yourself doing in 10 or 15 years…go to Carnegie Mellon…Pittsburgh sounds fun and you are young enough to explore options…as for early retirement…if you have work that you love…it is hard to contemplate that even if you are 60 like me…what is good is to have the option.

  24. I worked full time and went to grad school. (I’m a teacher.) it was in my mid twenties, and it was challenging,but now I’m really, really glad I did it. I was more employable, I never had to do without health insurance, and I immediately made more money. Also, a lot of the projects I did for my masters were directly taken from my job. I actually don’t know how I would have done it if I hadn’t been working.

    As someone who now owns a condo in a very hcol area (Honolulu) buying property is completely unnecessary at your stage of life. I love owning my place, but I don’t consider it much of an investment. We bought it two years ago with a 10% down payment (37k). Didn’t take long to save on our enhanced masters degrees paychecks. If you get married, you’ll probably want to pick a place with your spouse.

    So yeah, one thing at a time.

    Also: right on with your tithing. We have giving goals, and in 2016 set a record of 18% of our gross budget. We still manage to achieve our savings goals and be content. I mention this because I know that for me, I sometimes feel like we’re shooting ourselves in the foot by giving so much instead of saving more, but I want to encourage you that it’s worth it and is doable. Keep it up! If you need more encouragement, read Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster. It really puts money in perspective.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

      I agree wholeheartedly with the “shooting ourselves in the foot” thought process regarding tithing. It was a struggle to work up to 10% of my budget and I’m proud of myself and feel good about doing so, but if I think about it too long I can start to question it. Thanks for the book recommendation as well!

      One thing at a time–if only I could actually put that into practice! 🙂

  25. The 2 DC options look best to me. I wouldn’t leave a job that I liked to become a full-time grad student. That said, is there a requirement to finish the degree in 4 years? Can you stretch it out and make it essentially free by just taking up to $5250 worth of classes per year? Also, what classes can you just eliminate due to work experience or continuing education classes that you’ve taken through work? My school allowed up to 2 and I definitely got credit for 2 by petitioning and proving that my work experience and continuing ed. met the requirements of 2 specific required classes. It’s something to look into either way, but especially if you decide to do the degree $5250 per year as it will cut off significant time.

    FWIW, I did my MBA full time at night while working my full time engineering job during the day, and my sis did her JD this way as well. I can’t say that it was a super-fun few years for either of us, but our companies paid 100% up-front at that point and both of us wanted the degrees done as fast as possible in case that changed. If they had only paid a certain amount I’d have taken classes up to that amount until the degree was done.

    Also, I want to commend you for having it together and being frugal at your age. Fantastic! Keep up the good work!

  26. Congrats on being in such great shape financially speaking. I would stay with current employer and work full-time. Maxing out your 401k and even the company’s contributions help offset your additional tuition requirements. It will be painful but without kids, use this time to meet uour career goals.

    I actually left my 50k a year job to pursue a great MBA program about 10 years ago. I made a lot of money, am retiring early, met my husband in business school, but left school with $89k debt (paid off 27 months off after graduating). It was such a great time, but I could have done it part-time if I was smarter.

    Just do Vanguard. It is very simple once you do it.

  27. I think it’s also worth considering the opportunity cost of salary into the consideration. Considering a 2-3 year cycle, if she goes to CM, she misses 16 months of her current salary, but then is paid at a higher rate for the remainder of the 2-3 years. If she goes to JH, she is paid at her current rate for 2-3 years.

    Does the increased salary for 6-18 months outweigh the missed income for the prior 16 months? It likely depends on how quickly she completes the degree at JH. Does the cost remain the same whether the program takes 2 or 3 years?

    1. If I continue working full-time, my salary will likely continue to increase. In addition, I’m currently paid as though I have a Master’s degree so I’m not expecting my salary to jump up after finishing a program. I would have to have a Master’s degree for my job if I hadn’t been promoted from within.

      So I’m just expecting the Masters to allow me to continue advancing either at my current company or somewhere else.

  28. Emily- Congrats on your journey! I live right outside of DC (Takoma Park) and recently had a similar discussion with a younger former colleague. One question I had for her: what about University of MD? Granted, I don’t know the ins and outs of the degree you’re seeking, but they have a big public policy program with a really solid reputation. You could jump the DC line into Takoma Park or Hyattsville or even downtown Silver Spring (which wouldn’t require a car, and now has hipsters galore, and is very walkable for a suburb)—admittedly not as great a lifestyle as you’re used to–and establish residency? Don’t know about full time vs part time options, but just a thought!

  29. Wow, to have that kind of net worth so young! So many other people have student loans that weigh them down for a very long time.

    Emily is a very lucky girl…

    I second the recommendation for her to save more. It looks like she’s been livin the easy life there in DC…eating out, shopping, drinking, world travel. Can she really buckle down and save 50% or more?

    Working and going to school at the same time is really tough. I wouldn’t recommend it, despite doing it myself. It totally wasn’t worth it, both financially and from a mental stress standpoint. Unless that grad degree is really going to pay-off, it makes more sense to focus on saving. That will have the biggest impact on her net worth.

  30. I was in a similar situation to Emily about 15 years ago in my late 20’s. I choose to continue working full time while working on my MS in Analytical Chemistry and MBA part time. I was in a salaried job working 50-55 hours a week, commuting, and taking 2 classes a semester and summer classes. It took 5 years to complete both degrees and during that time I had minimal social life…I was very happy to be done! With that said, from a career standpoint both degrees fast tracked me into a very high paying management positions that would have been unobtainable without the advanced degrees. Maintaining employeer benefits and tuition reimbursement are huge but another factor to consider is how impressive it looks to future employers when you can hold down a full time job while completing an advanced degree. My advice is to continue working and get the degree part-time. Your still very young and those 3 years will fly by.

  31. Was just going to comment on this, great point. I would add your salary cost to Carnagie (X dollars) for while you complete the program. If you include your salary that you would have to give up for 16 months I think it would more accurately reflect the cost.

  32. Good luck! If I were you, I’d go with the shortest program. Get it over with and get on with your life. I’d hate to work and study for school for 4 years. That’s too long. That’s just me, though. Great job so far.

  33. What a wonderful dilemma you have. You’re asking great questions. Your efforts have brought you to an exciting crossroads and I see a very bright future for you. I humbly submit that with your enthusiasm and drive, it is very likely you will be able to craft the very journey that suits you regardless of which masters program you choose. I hear the Mary Tyler Moore soundtrack – Youre gonna make it…

    1. Thanks for your support Julie! I’m trying to be simultaneously grateful and happy about having this great decision to make, while still being anxious about making the right decision. And I think that no matter what I’ll choose it will definitely bring me closer to my goals.

  34. I’d go with Carnegie Mellon. My own rule of thumb for an MPP or professional degree program is to pick the place that gave you the most money, and CMU has the lowest total cost. An MPP is an intense program and if you chip away at it part-time, you’ll take longer and get less out of the program than if you dedicate 100% of our time to class and the extracurricular obligations such as networking and attending other career-focused events (outside of a small part-time job to help with living expenses). I don’t think 16 months of a resume gap is a real issue – it’s not a gap since you’ll be in an accelerated degree program!! Employers won’t expect you to have a full-time job on your resume for that time. My last point is that if you plan to have children later on, it’s even more important to get the job you want and start climbing the career ladder as early as you can. Staying 3 years at a job where you realize you’ve topped out is not very valuable compared to landing the job you want in 16 months. Some people will tell you the Hopkins or Georgetown name is invaluable for landing a DC job – but think about the fact that you already landed a DC job with a bachelor’s degree from a Midwestern school in a market that’s saturated with people with advanced degrees from fancy schools. Based on that factor, I’d say you’ll do just fine returning to this market with an MPP degree. Good luck!

  35. I agree that you should investigate whether or not you really will get a more prestigious, higher paying job with a graduate degree. I have a grad degree that I paid for by having a teaching and research assistantship. If there are opportunities for you to obtain a research assistantship with any professors, that usually will waive your tuition and pay you a modest amount of income. Generally if you are a “full time” assistant, that means you work 20 hrs/week for your professor and get full tuition waiver. If you are “half time,” that would mean you work 10 hrs/week and get half tuition waiver. This varies based on the university, but consider looking into it and reach out to several professors who are doing research that is of interest to you. I came out of grad school with no debt thanks to this option. I also started working as a “student worker” for the state government while in grad school, and that landed me a job right after I finished. However, if you have a really good job now, I always tell people to seriously consider the option of just cutting back on hours rather than quitting entirely. This would mean you couldn’t do an assistantship, but would provide some income and security. I personally haven’t experienced the pros that going to a prestigious academic institution offer, but my inclination is that you can probably get where you want to go with Carnegie Mellon and significantly less debt. That said, I have both of my degrees from large public institutions. Good luck!!

  36. I’ll say this: I don’t think Georgetown being slightly more expensive than the other two schools should be a deal-breaker. You’re young and seem to have very good financial sense, so I think you’ll be able to kill that debt faster than most people — although it could delay things like buying a house. Having been through an MPH program that was supposedly competitive and rigorous, I have to tell you that I wish I had worked at least part-time during my program. Working full-time while going to school is very tough; if there’s any way you could stay with your current employer but move down to 20 or 25 hours a week, that could make a huge difference and let you balance everything. If you ultimately want to live and work in D.C., then it seems to make sense to stay there so you can remain connected to all of the opportunities there, but since the Carnegie-Mellon program is accelerated, I honestly don’t think it would be too bad to go there and then come back to D.C. and maybe pursue a job at another company in the long run. Pittsburgh is much cheaper to live in and is apparently a pretty awesome little city with lots to offer.

    If I were you, I would go to Carnegie Mellon. Experience a new place, work part-time, get the reputation of an excellent program, live cheaply, and then head back to D.C. when you’re done.

  37. The opportunity cost of not working is very high – it’s the cost of your take-home pay for the year. $36K or so. Also, sweet beans for the bank of mom and dad. But, is there a way to cover the tuition with the salary you are making now?

    And if travel is your thing, is there career track that can take you more places? Or give you time for mini-retirements?

    Good job, keep it up

    1. I would definitely try to pay for as much of my tuition myself as possible. My parents just don’t want me to go into debt, so anything I would need to borrow they would want me to take from them instead of taking out any loans. We did the same sort of thing in college–I worked about 20 hours a week and paid for my living costs while they paid for the actual school part of it. Luckily a full-time job pays more than my 20 hour a week job paid in college, so I think I could contribute a fair amount! If I can secure more funding from Georgetown (and end up going there) I may even be able to pay for whatever the cost ends up being.

      My current company is fairly flexible–working remotely is an option and working on projects that involve travel is also an option. In this way, I hope my job will allow me to see more places. And the longer I’m there the more PTO I get! I’ll use up as much PTO as they give me. 🙂

  38. Sooo…this one is a tough one for me, for two reasons:
    1. I attended grad school nights, while working in DC (took me 2.5 years to finish, 10 classes, 2 per semester). I worked FT during the day. One difference: my job fully paid for it.

    It is do-able, but man, it is pretty exhausting. I love the DC area, and there is a lot of opportunity to network. So job-wise, it’s great to stay and keep your “in”.

    2. I attended undergrad at Carnegie Mellon. It’s a FANTASTIC school with a well-known reputation, especially in MPP. You would want to do some independent research in the placement of graduates – how many are getting the degree to help them in their current jobs, and how many move right into positions outside of the degree? Because that matters. And <$11k for that degree is a great deal. I'm going to say it. And Pittsburgh is cheap.

    SO owning a home…do you want to live in DC long term? I left after 5 years. Many friends stayed. It's expensive. Traffic is horrible. (Of course, I live in So Cal, and our housing is more expensive here than in DC. So…frying pan to fire.) We've considered moving back – husband's company has an office in NoVa. But really, the traffic and weather has put us off, even though housing in that particular area is 1/2 of what it is here.

    I'd aim to get it out of the way quicker. But that's me. I hate moving though.

  39. Hi Emily,

    Here are my thoughts, I’m in the UK but hopefully some of this is still valid.

    Get all of your studying done now whilst you’re young, free and single! You do not want to be devoting most of your spare time to study if you want to date or get married. I watched so many of my classmates struggling to balance study with running a home and looking after children. I saw many marriages break down and it is sad, but true. Someone else’s advice about having a single focus is key and will help you to get the most from each experience. One thing I wish I had learnt is to enjoy each time period in your life as it’s happening, don’t focus on the end goal of the qualification. Enjoy the study, the learning and the experiences that come with that.

    You need to choose the University that feels right for you – make sure you go on an open day, see the facilities and definitely, definitely talk to current students. Not every University is the same and in my experience, the more established courses have better quality lecturers and courses. They are also more respected in the field of employment and that DOES matter when fighting for a job. I did my undergrad course at a low quality University, on a brand new course- it was a bit of a mess at times, the lecturers weren’t properly qualified or experienced, the placements were not great and so on.

    In my field (health and social care), an MSc is more respected than an MA – I chose the former. I also chose to do a course that reflected my profession in its title, this meant that I was actually furthering my professional skills and knowledge with subject-specific modules. This was crucial to my enjoyment and future respect from employers. This was also important to me and my professional identity. However, if you are not certain what job you want to do in the future then you may want a broader education that gives you more opportunities. It can be a mistake to focus too narrowly, if you are early in your career.

    This leads me on to question whether now is the right time to do further study? I actually waited until I had more job experience under my belt, had worked for several different employers to gain more experience in the field before doing further study. My MSc required me to link theory and practical elements and it’s very hard to do that if all you have to go on are hypothetical scenarios. You will get much more out of the course if you wait. This is particularly true for the Masters dissertation and I think you will find you get a better mark if you wait. You say that your current employer has already promoted you to an M-level position, so do you really need to spend all this time and money on further study? It’s just that you say your over-arching goals are; “having enough money set aside to make unconventional choices when it comes to life and my career. This might be quitting my job to travel for awhile, retiring early, working remotely from abroad, having the flexibility to volunteer”. Masters always cost a lot of money and to my mind, it doesn’t sound like you’re meaning to have a life-long career in your field. So why put yourself through it? No-one really cares whether you have more letters after your name. Do what makes your happy, not what society expects.

    I chose to work part-time and study part-time to give me a good work life balance. My undergrad degree was totally hectic, with a massive workload and it’s not healthy. If you think you are strong mentally and physically, then it’s up to you whether you consider full-time work and study, but I wouldn’t advise it. I have seen too many people develop long-term health problems by putting that kind of pressure on themselves. Don’t sacrifice your health- it’s precious! Life is to be enjoyed and it comes back to the focus thing, one thing at at a time.

    I ultimately chose to do an online MSc which meant I saved on travel costs, books and course costs. They are really common now and you can have 6-8 years to finish them part-time. But I actually decided not to finish it, got my Postgrad Diploma and said enough is enough. I found most of the course content was a repeat of my undergrad degree, in not much more detail. After I’d finished the profession specific modules, there wasn’t a lot left to interest me – in-fact I found the whole thing quite dull which disappointed me. There was no way I wanted to spend another £3K doing a piece of research which interested me the least out of everything. I’m now learning to sew, by attending weekly classes and I enjoy it so much more and I have an incredibly useful and money-saving life skill under my belt. And this comes from a person who always thought she wanted to get a PhD.

  40. Have you talked to your parents? Sounds like they would be able to give you good advice. As long as you are enjoying your job, I would lean towards staying put and going to school locally, part time. You could always adjust your plan mid-stream depending on how it goes. I didn’t enjoy my job, so I cut the cord and went back full time to get my graduate degree. This opened the door for many opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Good luck with your decisions.

  41. I would also cast my vote for going to Carnegie Mellon. I think it gives Emily the most opportunities for the future and for potentially changing circumstances, such as buying a house or moving. However, if Emily is really committed to DC/her job, then it would make sense to go to one of the two DC based programs. I think of it as, does she want a big change or a small change? The big change could yield big positives but it may feel risky. The answer depends on Emily’s attachment to DC and desire for change. Personally, I think going to Carnegie Mellon will afford her with the most flexibility to reach her goals in the future.

  42. I’m going to start by admitting I’m biased as a CMU Heinz alum. That said, the price of the CMU degree is a STEAL. The alumni network of CMU is intensely strong, especially in DC, and I don’t think you’d regret your decision. Every grad I know had a job lined up before graduation, so I don’t that’d be a worry.

    A few notes – CMU’s behavioral science professors are outside the MPP, but you’re allowed to take classes or do a research fellowship with them. That type of experience would give money and even more expertise in your field of interest. Linda Babcock is nationally renown and you could work or study with her. (https://www.cmu.edu/dietrich/sds/people/faculty/linda-babcock.html)

    Second, you could also consider the MSPPM-DC program. It is not accelerated and so would likely cost a tiny bit more, but the second year is in DC and involves working 4 days a week while taking classes 2 nights and on Fridays. You could go back to your former job after a year sabbatical or find a new position, but folks usually make a decent dime in their job, which could allow you to cover your tuition altogether while being back in the city you love. I did this program, so if you have questions let me know. You usually need to apply specifically for this program, but if you go to CMU, you can often switch between programs during the first year in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh also has some amazing hikes and parks as well as fabulous breweries. http://www.heinz.cmu.edu/dc/msppmdc/index.aspx

  43. Hi Emily,
    I think your estimates of the “cost” of your degree are missing one component — income or foregone income. I would modify your totals in the grad school comparison accordingly and also think more in the context of what will be your net financial outcome at the conclusion of your studies, so you are really comparing apples to apples. So here is how I think the actual costs break down assuming your living expenses remain the same whether you stay in DC or move to Pittsburgh:

    Georgetown — three year program
    Annual tuition cost — ~$16K
    Annual take home income while in school — $~36K
    Total net at the end of three years — ~ $60K ((36K – 16K)*3)

    Johns Hopkins — let’s assume you take a full 3 years
    Annual tuition cost — ~ $12,500
    Annual take home income while in school — ~ $36K
    Total net at the end of three years — ~$ 70,500 ((36000 – 12500) * 3)

    Carnegie Mellon — 16 months
    Total tuition cost — ~$10757
    Total take home income for your 16 months in school — $15,000 (I’m just making this number up based on your comment that you would work part time. You can change it if you think you could make more or less)
    Total net at the end of 16 months — ~$4250 BUT to compare apples to apples, you should include your income for the remaining 20 months of the three year period so you can see where you would be in 3 years, which is the amount of time it would take to complete the other programs) Let’s assume that after you graduate you get a job that gives you $45,000 in take home pay because you will have your masters. Over 20 months, this will add $75,000 to your total take home income over the three year period, bringing the overall total to almost $80,000 net at the end of three years, meaning Carnegie Mellon would in fact be the most cost efficient program. On the other hand, if you were only able to get a job that yields $36,000 in take home pay after getting your degree, your net at the end of three years would be ~$65,000, which is slightly less than where you would be if you went to Johns Hopkins.

    One variable that would affect the actual cost include any raises you might get at your current job while you are in school. These raises would increase the net totals above. Another variable is how much you could make working part time while at CM. I estimated $15K over the 16 months, but if you increase or decrease that number it would affect the total. In the end, while Georgetown will always be the most expensive, the actual difference in the cost to you between Johns Hopkins and CM may not be much at all.

    None of this is to say that cost should be your only consideration. I just think you need to include your income (or the income you would lose by going to CM) when evaluating that actual cost to you of getting your Masters degree. I hope this makes some sense. Good luck.

  44. Hi Emily,

    IMHO, an MPP from Georgetown may be more beneficial to your future career than the MS from Hopkins. Additionally, you mentioned grad school is partially (generously) funded my mum & dad. Because you’re in excellent financial shape for your age, though I agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods’ investment & cost cutting advice, you may enjoy part-time at Georgetown as it keeps your life centred in DC. Hopkins is a commute, which brings additional expenses.

    Whatever you choose, you’re a blessed person with terrific options who has made great personal and financial choices! When I was 26, I decided to stop attending an Ivy League Law School to become a teacher. I, too, was able to attend school with the amazing help of my parents and travelled frequently. Though I now own a home with two kids and a partner, I look back at my grad school choice as the reason I live this lifestyle today!

    Best of Luck.

  45. Hi Emily, I did Georgetown full time for 10 months then switched to part-time when I got a full-time job I couldn’t turn down. It was tough, but I finished the last 8 months of my MA part-time at while working. Don’t underestimate the power of staying local to D.C. while you’re in school. The connections are important in this town and schools like SAIS hold weight. Also, if you stay on the buying property train, I highly recommend looking in NE, SE, and especially east of the river. The property prices in this city are insane and the quadrants other than NW are all way cheaper and provide way more opportunity for appreciation.
    Mrs. FW – thanks for featuring somebody in a high COL city!

  46. Are you able to discuss these opportunities with your boss? Having a higher-level degree may (or may not) make you more attractive to your current employer–and if it’s cool to have that discussion, I think it would be illuminating. Do you have other contacts who are established in your field who could break down what will give you the most bang for your educational buck, as well as the time you’d spend getting those letters after your name? Ask people who are few years older, a decade older, and beyond, to get a diverse array of perspectives. I’d hate to see you stop the progression of your career, but I am also sure you will be able to make opportunities for yourself once you’re done with school. Things are trickier these days for millennials…you’re blessed with a sensible outlook on the kind of life you want to live, so you’re ahead of the game, but these decisions do have large, life-shifting consequences, so it’s great to be considered and thoughtful about them. I wish I’d had half your sense back then–my path was more circuitous, which has its own charms, but doesn’t lead to as healthy a bank account. 🙂

    What element of public policy are you most passionate about learning and doing? Which school gives you the best track for that? What do you really hope to be doing in five years? You’re already working at an elevated title–would your current boss let you rise in the ranks without the grad degree? Does this have to be now? Can you get a little more work experience at your current job, then look at adding to your skill-set?

    As for your current expenses, I would consider putting the tithe money into an education savings fund instead. Obviously, this is important to you, so it’s always your call, but I think tithing is something that should happen in a context when your other immediate needs are met. There are many ways to be of service–and you’re working in a field that’s all about that!–and $350 is a large chunk for someone who’s doing an excellent job of establishing herself in the world. Tithing can come when you’re putting that new degree to work…and that degree might also make your skills even more valuable to your congregation down the road.

  47. I agree with Mrs. FW….WOW! Just Wow. I don’t have anything to add because Emily doesn’t need any advice from me. Whatever her decision, she is already so far ahead of the game that she’ll do just fine. I admire her determination and desire to continue with education, which in my opinion, is never a mistake, just only to make sure it is for a worthwhile degree and you get a good ROI, which you’ve already determined you will. Best of luck to you, Emily, and congrats for being so smart with your finances and your life.

  48. In a nutshell, I would recommend spending the least amount necessary in order to advance your career which, should you choose to attend graduate school, means I vote for Carnegie Mellon. In the process, I’d also recommend knocking out all traveling, luxury spending as well as reducing tithing. Should you choose Pittsburgh, you will make other friends, have new experiences and move in a different direction. You can always return to Washington DC, it will be there. I would imagine, your parents are moving towards retirement if they haven’t retired already. Your choice to accept their financial help to further your education may or may not be placing an additional burden on them. You might want to give this more thought because growing up is a choice which always requires self-reliance, sacrifice and consideration. Best of luck to you, you sound like a remarkable young woman with a very bright future.

  49. Is there anyway you can reach out to folks who are already doing what you want to do (or close to it), and bounce your question of program choice off them? It may seem odd cold-calling (emailing) a strange, but I was amazed at the perception of school choice in the ‘real world.’ When I attended law school, lawyers in the know informed me that while rankings, the admissions office, and many firms regarded the school as top-notch, many other firms and lawyers wouldn’t even interview our graduates because they didn’t have a specific kind of training or because ‘they’d just move on.’ Similarly, admissions offices have been known to inflate job placement ratings by ‘hiring’ recent graduates for temporary positions, or by counting any job, no matter how unrelated to the field or low in compensation. An outsider’s perspective is definitely worth the cost of the trouble it takes to get it (if they’re local, do lunch or coffee; if not, send flowers or food with your thank-you note).

  50. As others have said, wow! You’re in a great place, especially given your age. I got my MPP from Duke in 2006, attending full-time and working part-time. I know several commenters were able to pull off full-time employment while attending school full-time, but that will depend on the rigor of the school. No one in my program was able to pull that off. We were done in two years, though, and then had a seriously amazing career resource office and alumni network to launch–or re-launch–ourselves. I’d echo a previous commenter on checking into placement services and rates at the schools, as that can affect your job searches both post-graduation and years into the future. I am currently a stay-at-home mom of three, but am already looking into part-time options in the near-future. I worked in family service non-profits, so lots of part-time options available, and there are always research positions for MA holders in the policy field, too, so it’s a nice field for flexible work schedules! And again, I’m still getting assistance from my program’s career office, which has been tremendously helpful. Plus, I’ve been able to do a lot of applicable volunteer work while home with my kids. If you can’t tell, I’m a big fan of the public policy field. 🙂

    You’ve said it would be difficult to be rehired at your same job post-degree, so if you’re okay with that, I might think heavily about Carnegie Mellon given the cost savings and the shorter duration of the program. It sounds like you really enjoy DC, but if you’re not wedded to the idea of staying there for the near future, CM would be a great way to launch the next stage of your life. If you ended up returning to DC post-degree, the program is so short, I wouldn’t worry too much about losing all of your contacts/network. Depends on where your bliss lies. Whatever you choose, good luck from a fellow midwestern Big Ten undergrad alum and public policy fan!

  51. Emily –

    1. Have a totally frank discussion with your employer as to what the degree will mean for your advancement. Will it really get you what you want? Will you keep your benefits if you’re part-time? Will they hold your position for you if you go to Carnegie Mellon? In your field, does the prestige attached to one institution or another carry weight? The degrees are not entirely equivalent – does that make a difference? If any courses can be taken remotely, do it, especially do it before leaving your job, if you can. If you relocated out of DC proper (I was born in DC, later lived in Silver Spring, MD and went to the University of Maryland, College Park), can you get better tuition rates at one of the state universities as a state resident (MD, VA)? Yes, your transportation costs will go up, and likely your rent, but you need to run the numbers.

    2. Someone else said to add lost wages into the CM calculation. I agree.

    3. A really quick Google search found this about executive programs:
    This one at Maryland is 15 months, with classes on Friday and Saturday – you could probably work out something with your employer. Click on the Tuition link and see what they offer, the full price tag is $47,250. I don’t think in-state residency matters. A co-worker is doing and executive MBA at Ohio State, and while it can be a hard road, he’s a married guy with 2 kids. For college park you might need a car.

    Good luck, whatever you decide!

  52. You are doing great! I would humbly add that you seem like you are pretty disciplined and have it together. I don’t know you, but based on how you presented your situation here, I think that you would actually enjoy the challenge of working and part time grad school. I am attending grad school one class per semester in the evenings and it is fun! Really! I would start out with one class per semester and ramp up to more if that is doable for you. But, if you really want to go to school full time in Pittsburgh, I would ask your current employer about an unpaid sabbatical or telecommute part time opportunities before you go. It never hurts to ask!

    1. Ashley, I think you’re absolutely right that I would enjoy the challenge of working and going to school!

  53. The value of the maser degree really depends on what employers want to see. Emily is already working in a position that requires a master for new hires, so her job experience might equal the degree. Her HR department might offer valuable advice as to the benefits of getting the master.
    As to savings in the D.C. Area – the consignment stores in DC suck; they often sell used garnments for higher prizes than they’d be of the rack. Tacoma Park and College Park have a number of second hand shops with good quality, low cost clothes and household stuff on sale. While there, she could also hit the ethnic food stores and Aldi to stock up on staples and produce for the week.

  54. I would consider the funds (especially the ~$7K a year in savings, and cost of rent + groceries that you currently cover with your income) that you would be giving up by going to CM as part of the expense of CM. Not to mention the lifestyle changes of leaving the network you currently have in DC. I feel like JH is the clear winner, but that’s highly dependent on if that program will get you on the career path you’re aiming for.

    As a Christian, I believe in giving back through charity, but I also believe the borrower is slave to the lender. I would consider putting your tithe towards your tuition for the years in school to avoid taking out loans. I believe your increased income in the many years post graduation would make up for it in the long term.

  55. Hi Emily! I work in a similar field to you, also in the DC area. I went to GT for my master’s in a full-time program.

    My take is this: I would do either the Johns Hopkins or the Georgetown degree. You get many of the benefits of Georgetown at much less cost at Johns Hopkins, but what degree will really propel your career? Do you need this degree to really leapfrog your career, and if so, which one would do that?

    If you just need a Master’s degree, then do Johns Hopkins so you get to stay in DC. If the GT degree will get you some skill set or connection that you cannot get with Johns Hopkins that would really skyrocket your career, then I think that would be worth the additional costs. But as someone who went to GT, I don’t feel like the skills I learned were particularly unique. What was unique was the small class size for my program, leading to a much more effective learning and mentorship experience for me, as well as an amazing network.

    In terms of why DC vs. leaving DC:
    By continuing to work as you are getting your master’s degree, you will get continue to accumulate years of full-time experience, while still building your network in DC and acquiring a Master’s.

    Full-time school for me was the best choice as I didn’t already live in DC. But if you live in DC and already have a job in your field, then I wouldn’t leave that job until you can step into a new/different job that furthers your career growth. The easiest time to get a job is when you are already employed!

    Another thought is that in this time of change for a new administration, things are shifting in DC. We have no idea what the DC job market will look like in 2 years. I would be hesitant to leave my position and move outside of the area, because it may be hard to come back if the job market has shrunk. I think you will find that many go to get their Master’s to try and “break in” — and you have already done that. So, even if it takes longer, it is worth it stay working!

    Have you considered GW for their part-time public policy degree? My understanding is that they only offer night classes, have part-time options, as well as offer great scholarship packages.

  56. Great job! Just wondering why you’re using DropBox specifically to store photos and documents. You could easily utilize Google Photos and Gloogle Docs with absolutely no charge. That’s an extra $100 a year in your pocket.

    1. I’ll look into this! I like that DropBox automatically uploads all the photos I take on my phone to the cloud, so I never have to worry about intentionally backing up my phone. It also makes it so when my current 2012 Macbook breaks, I can just buy something like a Chromebook instead of a full-fledged laptop with a hard drive. But I’ll definitely look into Google Photos and see what their functionality is!

      1. Google Photos automatically backs up from your phone too. And they have awesome functionality like automatically making gifs and being able to search for people or objects (e.g. blue car).

  57. a few thoughts: 1) Moving is expensive and it’s harder to meet people frugally in a new town. 2) Behavioral economics seems to overlap with your interests and is pretty sexy and new in policy work. I’d look at which programs are hiring someone in that field if that’s relevant to the work you want to do. 3) Make sure you weight rep of the school with whether they are producing folks in the applied side or if they tend to produce academics who publish and study within academic circles. 4) your continued work experience can really help you stay focused on getting the skills you want and offer a place to test them; congrats on having so many good options!

  58. Emily you can do anything that you set your mind too!! I went to graduate school part-time at New York Univ., and worked full-time. It took me 4 years but during that time I got married, bought a house, and had a baby. My only suggestion is that while the tuition is less at Carnegie Mellon there is the possibility that you may not be able to work enough hours to cover your living expenses; so I would factor those in. Whichever school you choose make the most of it! Good luck!

  59. So impressive, Emily! I like that some people have mentioned “if you like your current job and its trajectory, stay and go to JHU. If not, head to Pittsburgh and got to CMU.”

    As a current grad student in Pittsburgh (at Pitt), I can say that this is a great city to be a grad student (lots of interesting/friendly people, enough arts/culture/dining scene to keep a busy grad student happy). However, the cost of living has been increasing in the past few years, and I don’t think you should discount that expense when calculating the cost of CMU.

    If you slash your current budget down to essentials like groceries, rent, phone, utilities, and insurance, and are able to find a very cheap rental near campus for around $450, you’re still looking at a minimum of $850/month in expenses. Enrollment at CMU would allow for a few amenities like access to the gym and a bus pass, but the cost of living would add $13,600 to your 16-month program. If you add on expenses like health insurance (CMU’s plan is $150/month), moving costs, etc. the cost increases.

    You mention that you could get a part-time job to help cover this, but unless it was within your field, I assume it would not contribute to your job prospects (unlike your current employment) and could take time away from more career-building endeavors.

    With all that taken into account, the savings of attending CMU are more like $13K rather than $26K. That’s still a lot of money saved, but it’s not quite as dramatic as it initially appeared. CMU is a great school and Pittsburgh is a wonderful, grad-student-friendly city. However, if you like your current job (and life in DC) and want this degree to help you go further at your company, JHU sounds like a fantastic option. You should also do some research and figure out which degree program will put you in the best position to meet your career goals, regardless of cost/timeline.

    I would therefore take into account the alignment of the programs with career goals, the real cost of attending CMU, and the benefits of staying employed when making this decision. Best of luck!

  60. It sounds like Emily is on a really good path! I would highly suggest going with the cheaper tuition and moving if it were me. While I know how hard it is to leave your friends (I did this when I went to college), you’ll make new friends while you are there and it’s not like they’ll never visit either. Your MA sounds like it will do a lot of good and help you end up with a higher salary. Plus, if your parents plan on helping out it still seems like the smarter option. While in school you can also try to get some internships or a part time job in a field related to your MA.

    1. I totally agree Emily is on a great path however, there is one other school she might check into and that is Pepperdine University they have an online program for the master’s.

  61. I’m doing something very similar – getting my MPA at GW while I work full-time. I can’t emphasize enough how great it has been to grow my network from school in the city I plan to continue working in after graduation. Choosing Washington, DC and GW over MPA programs in Philadelphia and Boston was the best decision for me. I would also note that at a certain point in some fields (and it sounds like we’re both in the policy realm), having any graduate degree is just as important as having a *specific* graduate degree. For that reason, I would go with JHU for the price, unless you think there’s a strong reason why an MPP would make a large enough difference in comparison to an MS in Applied Economics. The only caveat I would add is that you mention online classes at JHU – have you ever taken courses online? It’s a very different learning experience, one I personally do not enjoy. If you feel similarly, it might be preferable to go the Georgetown route if you think you’ll be forced to take a lot of online courses.

  62. Congratulations on getting accepted to all three schools!! I started an MBA program while working full time when my daughter was 6 weeks old, so working full time and doing a masters is doable, though not fun.
    I have a few questions, is there a cost in breaking your lease? What is the cost of rent in Pittsburgh? How much would it cost to get health insurance when quitting your job? Would you want to stay in Pittsburgh once you graduate?
    Since your work offers $5k tuition reimbursement per year, could you pro-long your Masters to get it paid in full by your work? If that is an option, and you are still young, I would recommend going to John Hopkins on a part time basis and maximizing your employer’s contributions. This will allow you to focus on a class at a time and minimize your out of pocket expenses. If you feel this isn’t working over time, you can always pick-up the pace of your classes.
    As far as owning a house goes, I would hold off on that for now, while continuing to save. At the rate of your rent, and the likely home cost in your area, the rent vs. buy point is about 5-10 years, so until you are certain about where you want to live long term, renting is your most financially sound bet.

  63. One thing I didn’t see you considering is where do you ultimately want to live? If your goal is to go back to the Midwest, then quitting and going to Pittsburg seems reasonable, because you’d be consider moving on from Pittsburg to somewhere else. If your goal is to stay in a big city, then I’d be strongly considering the big city, schedule hell for three years and stay put.

    Kudos for all the smart decisions you have made so far. And kudos to your parents who not only educated you by footing the bill for your undergrad, but seemingly made you understand that it is a blessing as well. Well done, mom and dad!

  64. Also look at George Mason University in Fairfax for their public policy program. They are a metro ride away and have lots of distance learning options as well.

  65. I have a crazy question: could you keep your D.C. Job and apartment, and commute to Pittsburgh?

    Grad school classes are often Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday. Let’s say you could arrange Monday/Wednesday classes. You could take the bus from DC on Sunday evening, arriving in Pittsburgh in time for a nap and Monday classes; Wanderu has bus tix as low at $15 each way. Get all your homework done on Tuesday, attend your Wednesday classes and hop back on the bus to arrive in DC to work there Thursday, Friday and, if your employer allows it, Saturday. Or maybe your employer would let you telecommute on Wednesday.

    I know this sounds complicated and difficult, but it would only be for 16 months.

    One thing you mentioned is stock in your employer. Are these options or some sort of grant? In either case, do look into liquidating this stock to help pay your tuition. This might be a taxable event, but it might be worthwhile if it helps pay for school.

    1. I admire this idea!
      Unless your program requires group projects…. Some can be done electronically, but not all.
      Have you looked at the courses, the kinds of work they require, the timing, etc.?

      1. As a CMU alum – this would be close to impossible. Almost all coursework is group based, and requires use of software available in labs but not to own. Furthermore, it’s hard/rare to be able to have any days without classes. There’s a DC-based program that involves 1 year in Pitt and 1 in DC that would be an option, but for the 16 month program this would be unrealistic.

  66. My initial thought is to go for the program that is cheaper and shorter. The question is, how difficult will it be to find a new job after completing school? Is this a specialized niche, or will there be a lot of job opportunities for you with the higher degree?

  67. Congratulations! I echo many commenters and recommend the JHU – just go slow. I also disagree with Mrs Frugalwoods. If you are of the Christian background I suspect (given all the years of Christian school), then tithing is very important. I have a similar background so that’s why I tithe even if I could up my savings faster doing other things. I am now in a financial place where I am looking into a Donor Advised Fund. I even got a how-to from a non profit I donate to but said to myself, Frugalwoods is clearer. That might help in the future for taxes – even if you don’t actively use the deductions now.

  68. First I have to commend you for the great position you are in financially! You are certainly fortunate to have help from your parents, but most of the people I know in that position do not use it to the advantage you have–rather, they tend to overspend and act as if someone will always be there to pick up the tab.

    I haven’t read all of the comments, but from the comments I did read, it seems like most people recommended that you go for one of the cheaper options. I also read in one of your comments that the MPP would be better than the MS for your career path. I’m going to go against the grain, then, and suggest that if you think it would be best for your career, networking, and future pay, I would not even hesitate to go to Georgetown. In the scheme of things, $11,000 is not a lot of money. A few years ago we made the risky and seemingly least prudent choice to send my husband to a 1-year masters program at Columbia (we both quit our jobs for this, by the way). The program was *perfect* for his career path and quite expensive, even with scholarships, but the pay-off was huge. He TRIPLED his salary after that one year program, and it allowed me to be a stay at home mom in the same high cost of living city you currently live in. 🙂

    My only other advice is in regards to what to prioritize in terms of a down payment vs. other savings goals. I think we are in a similar situation as you–we live in DC and have buying a house as an eventual goal but aren’t quite sure that this is where we want to buy a house or when we will want to buy a house. Right now the price-to-rent ratio makes buying a house unappealing. We have been savings heavily for a down payment, thinking we would move to a more affordable place. After two years of trying to move elsewhere, though, we have decided we need to start prioritizing retirement, since we are a bit behind on that. One thing we are currently considering is fully funding our Roth IRAs. I know that it usually isn’t recommended in the early retirement world, but it sounds like that may not be your ultimate goal anyway. The great thing about a Roth IRA is the ability to pull out the principal at any time, so if we do decide that we need more down payment money down the road, we can always re-prioritize that. Just something to think about.

    Oh, also in regards to having your money in Betterment, I’m assuming it is for the automatic tax lost harvesting. Is there a way to see how much this has saved you so you can evaluate if it is actually worth the fees?

    1. Thanks Rachel! You and your husband’s story is an inspiring one–if only I could KNOW which one will pay off more…why haven’t they created a crystal ball that actually works yet?!? It’s great to hear that sometimes making what feels like a risky but calculated decision pays off.

      Yes, I chose Betterment because of the automatic tax loss harvesting. I don’t know how much it’s saved me, but it does seem like it would be simpler and likely just as effective (if not also cheaper) to just go with Vanguard. I don’t think I have enough $ with Betterment now to see a huge tax advantage yet.

  69. It seems like the whole reason you want the degree is to ultimately leave your job, so not sure there’s much point in staying in your current job if it means you have to pay more for school to do so. I’m the CMU camp – it’s free, has the best reputation, and Pittsburgh is cheaper (as to the health insurance question -wouldn’t you get care through school? I did when I was in grad school). You’ll have a new experience and when you get out in a year and a half you can find a better, more highly-paid job.

  70. Given her positive financial situation for her age, Emily likely has excellent credit, too. How can you travel without breaking the bank? I would add the advice of travel hacking as a way to save money. What is travel hacking? Signing up for large credit card bonuses, spending the minimum on that card to get the required points, and then signing up for another sign up bonus of a different card. Rinse repeat.

    She could probably travel more or get her budget for travel much lower. For years I didn’t do this, and spent cash to travel instead. Now we go to new places with points, that I wouldn’t have considered with cash, and we spend less. This is a win, win in my opinion. Also, signing up for new cards does not have a big impact on your credit score (a myth that stops people from travel hacking).

    1. I ended up tacking a weekend in Santorini onto my trip to Israel for free by doing this! But I haven’t looked into actually making an effort to travel hack. You’re correct that I’m worried about what it will do to my credit score (which, as you suspected, is solid) so I’ll look into this more.

  71. I have two more unorthodox suggestions…Please ignore them if they rub you the wrong way. I’m not trying to be rude–only to possibly expand your thought horizon.

    1) See if there’s any way to follow Mrs. FW’s footsteps–try to find a job at one of the universities. This will probably be the cheapest route, and I’ve found that succeeding professionally usually involves general business proficiency apart form the expert skill set you have from your studies.

    2) Do some soul searching to find out what really matters to you. If your career and field matter most, and this is the typical way of advancing, then you might be setting yourself up for average. If you’d rather have a clear path to pursue unconventional extracurricular activities, perhaps simply increasing income could be more helpful. I graduated from a non-prestigious Midwestern liberal arts school (I doubt you’ve heard of it) with a degree in math, but without a clear career path. 12 years later, I’ve ended up working as a health policy consultant for a respected DC company. I make a mid-6 figure salary which is higher than many of my peers with MPH or similar degrees. I’ve found that solving problems (both internally and externally) is a key for success. (At the same time, I value a work/life balance with 6 kids, and have a very reasonable work week…working smarter is the recipe for success!) A friend of mine graduated from law school in 2010 and worked as a big-law lawyer for an oil and gas firm in Texas. He also entered the health care field with no further training, and is now a very senior health policy adviser for the department of health and human services. I’ve learned what I needed to for success by keeping up with industry publications and thinking big-picture about the issues the company is facing.

    In my mind, someone who is a self-starter and works hard at bettering their employer can easily make $100k+ in DC with 5-10 years of experience. Learning, networking, and getting stuff done that impacts the company’s success can matter more than a credential. If a graduate degree is specifically required, then perhaps there is more labor supply than demand, and there might seriously be less upside financially for progressing up that specific ladder.

  72. If you aren’t super-committed to pursuing a long career with your current company (and it sounds like that’s the case), take the more affordable option and go to Carnegie Mellon. You’ll save time and money and be able to enter the workforce with an advanced degree after that. This money-saving plan can enable you to save money for retirement and buying a home. And buying a home in or near D.C. is expensive! Is it possible for you to live in a more affordable metro area?

  73. Some of the best advice I got when choosing my university was to go because you want to learn, not because it’s the next step in life. Which school has the best program with the specialties you’re interested in? Which school has professors researching in areas that you are passionate about? Where could you find meaningful mentorship from faculty? Those would be thrilled questions I would ask myself and go from there.

    1. You make excellent points Jessica!! I started at one grad school and hated the program, I finished the semester and I ended up going to a different program for the exact same points that you made. Over 30 years later, I still feel that I made the better decision to change schools!

  74. You have some exciting options. One idea that others have mentioned is that Pittsburgh is on the rim of the mid-west and it’s a very nice city with fewer expenses than DC. It also will permit you to work part-time. I have been to graduate school (in a different field) and to really make the most of obtaining the degree you will need to spend a lot of time. Maybe you can score a part-time job at one of Pittsburgh’s many academic locations or libraries and even do a bit of study on the job?

    I vote for Pittsburgh only because: 1) You will make new friends quickly and especially if you are in a full-time program in grad school.
    2) Unless you are in love with DC, you will be able to afford a house in the Pgh area much sooner.
    3) I live in a midwestern city where the size of my house and my ability to travel add immeasurably to my life. Where I in a more costly area of the country, I would not have these options.

    The choice will become more clear as you proceed to read the comments here and evaluate your life in DC.

  75. MPP holder here, Georgetown while working! First, Georgetown has more cache in the Public Policy world, it’s taken more seriously and is more respected internationally,especially if you hit the public policy analysis career wall in the US. Usually next level is UN type positions and there having a degree from Georgetown will get your further. Secondly, keep the job, it’s really hard to get that first job as a newly minted MPP, especially in the DC area. Once you finish your degree, most policy places will move you up internally to a higher position and than when you’re ready to look for new employment/opportunities elsewhere, you’re in a better position to move up and not laterally or even down in a role, yes down a rung or two, really. You don’t mention it, but add a second language, if not two, to really stay competitive. My MPP holding friends who took that route have had the most successful careers, the ones, who like me, took off to focus on school have seen our careers lag behind, sometimes by three and four years in terms of salary, position and responsibility- we all got hired as new MPPs at slightly lower levels even coming in with several years relevant previous experience from the time prior to our degrees., my friends who kept their jobs got a position and pay bump instead.

    1. Thank you for sharing Alexa! Your experience is directly applicable to mine and I really appreciate you sharing your advice. 🙂

  76. Hi Emily! Congrats on being in such a wonderful position. Here’s my thoughts:

    1. I’d pick one of the two schools in DC, and I’d decide between the two not based on cost, but on the programs themselves. Which coursework do you find more interesting and which do you think would add the most value to your resume? In the long run, the difference in cost is not that great.

    I went to school part-time for my Masters in Business Taxation while working full-time at a CPA firm. It took me just under 3 years, and while it was hard to juggle, I wouldn’t take it back. I was able to continue up the ladder at my firm and increase my take home pay each year. However, right after graduation I relocated to a different part of the country, and I was seriously missing both my established professional network and my school alumni resources. It is so helpful going to school in the area where you want to stay.

    2. I’m with Mrs. FW on this one too. I’ve had a Fidelity account for 10+ years and I’ve been very happy. Keep up the good work there with your retirement savings too.

    3. I think the best way for you to save for a home is to bank all of your pay increases (minus a little treat to celebrate your raise) into a “House Fund” account. I set up a separate House Fund account when I was saving for my down payment, and after my more modest 8% 401K deduction and a fully funded emergency fund, I threw everything I could into the House Fund. I bought a house 3 years ago in Seattle (at age 30), and while I only was able to save 10% for my town house, I was able to get PMI waived after 2 years of appreciation. Looking back on it, I would have eaten out less and shopped less for clothes I no longer even wear, but it sounds like you already have that in check.

    4. I think you’re doing great! Make sure to take advantage of DC! There’s no point in living in a high cost of living city if you’re not going to go out and experience it. I prioritize going out to see live bands and checking out new bars, in balance with the free things around in the city.

    I hope this helps! Know that the pain of the part time master’s program does exist, but it makes you stronger. 🙂

  77. I think the answer is Johns Hopkins. You not only keep benefits but also keep the investment in the 401K, which stagnates if you move to some kind of barista job while at the program in PA. I think that needs to be taken into the calculation, but so too is the fact that you might want to leave DC at some point and having an MA will give you more options. (I’m a professor, so of course I believe in the power of more education!). I also think, though, that you’re young — working full time and doing a nearly full-time degree course load is something you CAN do now and you don’t want to look back and regret missing the opportunity. When you have a family and kids and a less flexible lifestyle, doing that kind of multitasking will NOT be possible — so I say do it while you can!

  78. You have educated yourself on how to handle your finances at an early age Emily. I wish I knew how to deal with my finances when I was Emily’s age, keep it up.
    My advice for you is just to focus on going to grad school and not worry about buying a house yet but still save up for one. Concentrate on task at hand, going to grad school get through the grind and get that master’s degree. As far as which school, I would recommend staying in the DC area and go to JHU since you can mix up your classes by either taking it online or on campus and plus you can keep your full time job. This way you can still contribute to your 401k(and maxing it out ) and continue to save for a house down the line. I also think you should invest in index funds with Fidelity but also look into WealthFront as well. In terms of where you should cut down your spending, I would cut on your luxuries by half if possible and try to find a cell phone plan that’s cheaper. Maybe no contract carriers like Boost, Cricket, or Flash( on the Verizon network)
    Best of luck Emily.

  79. One thing to think about regarding going to grad school while working full time – you won’t have as many opportunities to go out on the town and spend money. You’ll be busy studying in your off-hours, and like Mrs. Frugalwoods mentioned, you’ll have the resources of the university at your disposal (for instance, a campus gym). So combining work and school can be a frugal choice, as long as you still have time to cook for yourself. I combined grad school and full-time employment and found this to be true!

  80. Have either of the universities in question offered Emily a teaching assistantship? That typically comes with a full or partial tuition waiver. Barring that, she may consider an online degree. Many brick-and-mortar universities are moving toward offering at least some programs online. It’s worth a look, imho.

  81. Emily, you are amazing! Whatever you decide, it’s clear that you will make the most of it!

    I would recommend that you consider the full time program for a few reasons:

    1. Masters programs can be pretty grueling. I got an MBA, and the workload was hugely different than undergrad.

    2. The camaraderie in a full-time masters program can be great. You have time for more study groups and interactions that will help you prepare for the next step in your career. I still keep in touch with my business school contacts for advice and assistance to this day. (It’s been a long time since I graduated.)

    3. You knock that degeee out in a year! So your “time to money” for that next level job is faster.

    4. Going to the full time position at a great school like Carnegie Mellon will get you access to recruiting for your next career step. In the case of an MBA, I found that I was in a much better position, salary-wise, as a new hire. I was able to command a market rate salary. My colleagues who got advanced degrees and stayed at the same employer did not see big salary/promotional adjustments upon getting their degrees. This might be different in the Public sector, but it might be worth checking.

    I would recommend checking out what kind of career support you get for that next job. With a the right support, taking a year out of the workforce could be a great bet!

    Good luck!

  82. Hi Emily! Congrats on your success! I’m a Baltimore/D.C transplant in the Midwest, so it’s nice to read about the swap there. I am pursuing my MBA part time while in school. My work reimburses me for it all, so it’s worth it even though it may take up to 4 years. I think it is valuable to stay in the work force while I school because you may make bigger strides by applying your knowledge in your job. With the degree and 3 years of work experience at the same time you will be way more valuable in any position.

    As far as Georgetown over JHU, I have a ton of family that went to JHU, so I’m biased. Pick whichever is the best for your field and the network you want. I actually looked at JHU for my MBA, but ultimately waited until I moved to the Midwest to be with my husband. Good luck!

  83. My company hires from top global MBA programs (MIT, Harvard, etc). I went to lesser known state school but graduated with my Masters at 22 (graduated with BS and MS in 4 years). Started corporate at 22 and then also received my MBA (part time). At 26 I was recruited by said company and I am at the same level as the students graduating from full time programs. Minus the debt, missing out on 2 year’s salary. Oh and I’m also younger… My experience.

    I never thought I would ever get a chance to interview for some of the companies who have contacted me. But I think my resume stands out due to my roles in global corporations. I’m also a worker bee.

    Don’t get me wrong, I would totally go to Harvard. But at this point financial independence is my all time goal. Then I can consider going and getting a PhD.

    My opinion, keep you full time job and do grad school part time. Even if it takes you a bit longer.

  84. Awesome job, Emily!!

    In addition to the name, we have a several other similarities. I also work in public policy in DC, and I’ve gone the route of frugal higher education.

    I’ve had the experience of going to an MA program full-time (with tuition covered and a living expenses stipend), and I’m currently working full-time while completing a part-time PhD that’s paid for by my employer. If I were you, I would go to one of the DC schools and keep your job. The main reason I decided to do a part-time PhD is because I love my job. As Mrs. FW points out, it’s not always easy to replace a job that you love.

    I’m not going to lie — it has been a long, hard slog to work full-time at a demanding job while doing grad school on the side. I’m in my last semester of coursework and cannot wait to be done. But I think that in the end I’ll be happy I did it this way because I’ve been advancing in my career while working on school, and I have a very clear path to a promotion once I’m done. I get to apply what I’m learning in classes as I take them. My dissertation will also be a work project, so it’s advancing two goals. And I’ve been able to save about 40% of my income during the program.

    Sometimes I feel envious of full-time students who are more immersed in our coursework. They also get to take advantage of more on-campus events, form tighter bonds with each other, and get to spend more time working and coauthoring with our professors. But I also think that some of them feel a bit directionless compared to people who are working while completing the program, particularly during the dissertation stage.

    For someone who wanted to go into academia, I would advise a full-time program all the way. But for DC policy research jobs, I think that a part-time program will ultimately work out better for me.

    One final note, I’m team Jim Collins on renting versus buying a home. In a market like DC where the rent-to-purchase price is so low, I think it makes financial sense to rent cheap and invest the difference rather than sinking a huge percentage of your net worth into a home.

    1. I did my masters immediately following my undergrad, and even though it’s environmental engineering, not public policy, I would say Emily H is on the money. I didn’t know what questions to ask and my research felt rather directionless since I had never been in the working environment. Working while pursuing your masters degree will help you focus mentally on what you really want to learn. Five years out, I can think of all kinds things I would research and what I would have done differently.

      I haven’t seen you mention if you plan to write a thesis or not. Even if you only want to publish one paper, you should interview the professors/advisors at each university that you may be working with. You will be stuck with them, most likely the entire time, and just like a good job makes all the difference in work satisfaction, so does a good advisor. Ask his or her current grad students questions like this, Does your advisor meet with you weekly/monthly to discuss your research and next steps? Does your advisor actually read your manuscripts and give good feedback? Does your advisor suggest topics for papers to publish and which journals would likely accept them? Find out if your potential advisor has worked with students who are also full-time employed before. When you talk to your potential advisor are they excited about the experience you could bring from outside academia or do they see your job as a hindrance? Just because someone is a genius in their field doesn’t mean they’re someone you want to work with. Get to know your potential team. Good luck!

  85. Hi Emily I am in a similar dilemma whether to pursue masters or go to the job I still am. In your case you have an option to continue your job whereas in my case I have to completely dependent on my parents.

  86. Great advice as always from Mrs. Frugalwoods and the commenters. To talk about my personal experience, I worked full-time in a demanding IT job while getting my MBA nights and weekends with two small children. If I can do that, you can do the full time work and part-time degree too! I would definitely pick John Hopkins as the more practical option.

    There are three additional considerations I want to add that I didn’t see covered yet (although I might have missed them):

    1 – Take more time to get your degree. If your employer is like mine, their reimbursement is on an annual basis. So if I finished my degree in four years, they reimbursed more than if I finished it in three years. If this is also how yours works, you can probably time the start/finish to the degree to spread over five calendar years, saving an additional $5250.

    2 – Tax credits. You’re going to be saving money on your taxes by paying for school. The Lifetime Learning credit will give you up to $2,000 for spending $10,000 on education. Or you can take a $4,000 tuition and fees deduction. So you might be able to save another $8k or so here.

    3 – Negotiate. You have a great deal there with the Carnegie Melon cost and scholarships. Call up John Hopkins and make an appointment to go down in person and talk with the financial aid office. Let them know that you love the program and want to go, but you have a compelling other offer. Ask if there’s anything they can offer to help match it, or at least bring their cost down. Worst case, they’ll say no – but you might be surprised.

    Best of luck to you! You’re already on a great path.

  87. Hey!

    I’m Natasha from India. I’m actually going to be attending the McCourt School this Fall (MPP – Full time). It’s quite a coincidence that I bumped into this post. Firstly, I wanted to commend you for all that you’ve done so far. I do agree that going to grad school will help you. By the looks of it, you’re looking for a school that will add the most to your value.

    As I can tell, you haven’t been talking to alumni from the schools you’ve been accepted at. That’s where I think I can help!

    For the first half, I’m not considering the expenses because I truly believe that grad school is a one time investment and it’s more important to go to a school that adds the most to you (rather than the cheapest one). I have heard so much about the advantages that DC provides (you’d know this better than I do) for grad school. I don’t see why you should shift out if DC at all. The fact that 2 of the 3 schools you applied to are in DC shows that you prefer to stay in DC. I’d recommend you do the same.

    Course wise, the course at McCourt is more Quant heavy. These skills are really valued in the job market. I’ve heard that people from McCourt find it easier to get a job than people from SAIS.

    Also, I think doing the course part-time makes a lot of sense for you. I believe you’ll be able to earn at least 60k per year post graduation. You could also take a small loan and pay it back in 2-3 years (if you’re not keen on borrowing money from your parents).

    I currently have to head for a meeting but I would love to talk further! Email : nahuja32@gmail.com

    Best of luck! I hope this helps. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to frame this well. Multitasking isn’t really my force!

    1. Hi Natasha! I’ve spoken with alumni from all 3 schools, but the fewest from CMU. I’m attending Admitted Students Day so I’m planning to get that perspective in short order. McCourt and Heinz are both quite quant-heavy, and that’s definitely one of the main things I’m looking for in a program. I agree that these skills are super important in this job market!

      I’m actually already making over 60k right now (hence why I’m concerned about leaving my job and maybe having to enter the job market at a lower rate even after a Master’s degree!!!), so I’m hoping if McCourt grants me a larger scholarship I would be able to pay for it out of pocket or borrow minimally from my parents and be able to pay it back in short order.

  88. Hi Emily—Wow, you really have it together and are doing a great job with your finances and you are so smart to ask the Frugalwoods Nation for advice. One suggestion for you to consider would be to look at the MPP programs at Maryland State and VA state colleges that are accessible by public transportation. For example, George Mason University offers a MPP with evening classes to accommodate working adults at their Arlington/Crystal City campus that may be very accessible for you. I am currently enrolled in a part-time masters program at Mason (my employer is footing the bill) in an IT engineering discipline and I have really enjoyed it and have been able to apply what I am learning in class to my current job. One advantage of taking classes at night while still working is that you will have an opportunity for networking which may lead to additional job and advancement opportunities in the future. That said, as others have said it is a lot to work and take classes. But, you are at a stage in your life where you could focus on it. Do expect to have to prioritize what activities are most important such as continuing to get exercise and eat healthily. Good luck in making your decision!

  89. Something you should also keep in mind is the opportunity cost of going to CMU. You should count your lost salary (net expenses) as a cost, since you will be losing this by leaving the workforce. Even though CMU may be cheaper on paper, I bet it’s actually more expensive once you consider going full-time vs. working and going part-time.

    As someone who also works in DC and watching folks leave my company and go to grad school (primarily MBAs) over time, I’ve found that the benefits gained through 2 years’ work experience often outweigh the benefits via school. For example: I’ve seen two people at the same level, one goes to get an MBA, one doesn’t, and then they both end up in the same role 2 years’ later. Honestly, master’s grads are a dime a dozen these days, but people with significant experience are in short supply.

    Regarding buying real estate in DC, I’d think carefully about investing in this market especially with the potential changes to the Federal workforce from the Trump administration. Further, the price/rent ratios are bad enough that it’d be very difficult to find a decent house that would rent out at or above the monthly mortgage payment these days. This was not the case in 2012/2013.

  90. There are a ton of comments here, and I definitely didn’t read them all, so I apologize if this is a repeat question/advice. But would an online program be completely off the table? It would allow you to stay working in your current job, stay living in DC, and give you the flexibility to work and go to school since you would be able to control your school load and schedule. I personally don’t care for online schooling, so I understand if it also wouldn’t be ideal for you, but just a thought! Also, I would say that if you really love your job AND they love you, then if you were to leave to get a degree elsewhere where it is cheaper with the intention of coming back to work for them, that that would be completely feasible. I’ve worked for 6 different corporate companies of all different sizes, and in every company there was at least 1 person that had left and came back. I don’t think it is frowned upon, especially if the terms in which you left were that you went to pursue a degree specifically so that you could advance within their company. Having said that, because I have worked in so many companies, there is something to be said for having a job you love. It makes a difference not only in your professional life, but also your personal life, your social life,etc…it trickles throughout, so I would say it would be worth a discussion with your employer. Best of luck to you!

  91. I would pick a school in DC and keep your job. I say this because I graduated law school when the economy suddenly tanked, which left many of my classmates without a job–I was fortunate, but many weren’t. So I don’t like the idea of giving up a job, not at all, because you don’t know what the economy will be like in even a year. There’s so much political turmoil right now. But that’s my own bias.

  92. Hi! Similar to other posts- congratulations on being in such a wonderful place that no matter what you choose, it will be the right choice. There is no “wrong choice” or “bad choice” in this scenario. The only real choice is what do you personally want to get out of your options. That being said, making the choice will be that much harder.
    I want to posit an option that I haven’t seen being tossed around yet: what about going for a Ph.D? I don’t know much about this field in general, but I am in a Ph.D program myself. If you’re going to take the plunge for higher education, I say go all out and reach the highest you can while you still have the flexibility to do that. Of course that would mean leaving your current job, but you should easily be able to pick up a TA or RA position in any graduate school you choose, and these should hopefully pay for any basic cost- of- living while also paying your tuition.

    The second consideration I haven’t seen mentioned is that by going to CMU you will be leaving your current networking and social circle- but that is a positive thing. You will still maintain the people you have now (always be able to call them for a reference or advice, you will still be able to see your friends on the weekends, ect.) while growing a new network from an entirely different group of people. In my (albeit limited) experience, having a broader professional network is much more advantageous than have a deeper one. Strictly from a professional sense, a single person can only offer you X amount of help, and they are likely to continue to offer that help to you after you prove yourself once. So to increase your value X, you need more people, not deeper relationships. You never know where a lucrative job opportunity might turn up, or from who. It’s the people who take the unconventional path that tend to travel further.
    Third, and this has been mentioned but is worth mentioning again- where do you physically want to be in 5 years. If DC is the answer, then you should stay in DC because of all the benefits everybody else has described. If you think you might want to be someplace else (anywhere else- Europe, Asia, Midwest, San Fransisco, ect.) I think it is worth moving. Moving is hard and expensive, but learning how to do it effectively and develop your social and professional networks frugally is an important skill to learn, so it is better to learn how to do it now while you have the benefit of your parents support, rather than later when you have other obligations (possibly family) and an urgent deadline to move for career advancement. Moving for school will give you time to acclimate slowly and develop the skills needed in an environment created to help young professionals do just that.
    Hope that made sense, and best of luck to you!! Like I said, there is no wrong choice in this equation, just a choice that most aligns to who you are and who you want to become.

  93. Wow! I’m really impressed by how accomplished and responsible you are! Like many of the other readers, I too live in DC too and would vote for staying in the area and going to a local school. I have an MPA from GMU (but took a great deal of MPP courses!). One of the most valuable aspects from my program was being taught by professors who had working experience in their field – not just academic experience. Also, the networking opportunities that I had among the other students was fantastic. From my understanding of your career interests, DC is the place to be!

    Like you, I wanted to increase my salary and gain skills in a field that I wanted to spend my career in. Grad school taught me skills that I use regularly in my job, my degree allowed me to transition into the area of focus that I wanted, and I doubled my salary immediately after I graduated. I was in a rush to finish because I was eager for those things to happen. I worked full-time and went to school full-time. It was a sacrifice – I was time bankrupt and VERY broke but I know that I made the best decision and it got me to where I wanted to be quickly. Also, as you are already aware of, DC is a highly competitive area – an advanced degree has become almost necessary.

    Another advantage to staying in DC is that if you are considering working for the Federal Government, you can take advantage of the Pathways internship program. The US Gov’t hiring process is tough and coming in through Pathways is a fantastic option! Although, this could change in the current administration.

    As far as owning a home/savings – I’d look into opening a Roth IRA. This may limit your options for how you can use the money, but if you are serious about a down payment – this could be a great option. But like The Social Democrat noted before, I would be cautious about buying real estate in DC considering the potential change.

    Congratulations on getting into so many fantastic schools!

  94. Don’t discount the fact that if you quit your job to go to graduate school for 16 months you should factor in your lost income as part of the “cost” of the school. You are losing out on your ~$36,000 annual salary. I’d argue that the cost then is not $10,000, but closer to the tuition plus ~$48,000 in lost wages. And that doesn’t even factor in the loss of your employer’s retirement matching funds, potential promotions, etc. I don’t think this necessarily means you shouldn’t take this option (though I personally wouldn’t), but just wanted to point this out!

    You’re obviously thoughtfully considering all of your options, and as many others have noted you are doing an incredibly job planning for your future no matter what route you take. Good luck!

  95. Sorry, I have not read all the comments, so perhaps some one already suggested what I will:

    I live in Holland and here, you can sometimes take for example a year off, without pay, so you can try another job or go back to school. After a year your job is yours again, if you want it.
    Perhaps something to think about and see if this is an option for you?

  96. Pittsburgh is a VERY up-and-coming city, and the cost of living is MUCH less than DC. If my Virginia-born husband was more tolerant of winter I’d live there in a heartbeat. I also think that coming from the Midwest that you’d feel very much at home in the Burgh. And if you’re a hiker you’ll love the area too.

  97. If you want to work for a government or non-profit for 10 years after graduation, you will be eligible for public service loan forgiveness. So you (and your parents, since they are willing to pay for your grad program) will only end up paying 120 months worth of student loan payments, which can be quite low, since they are based on income. I’m halfway through it, and my calculations suggest that my total payment over 10 years will be around $25K.


  98. I think you need to go into your bosses’ office and put this dilemma out there. Maybe not all the $ facts, but your options of what you’re thinking about. Mention you love your job and want to stay, but are looking forward and want to do the best for your career. More than likely, you’ll get some great advice from someone who’s been there done that.
    As a twenty-something I never realized how many great career resources I had in my bosses, coworkers and mentors and wish I would have picked their brains a bit more.

  99. I agree with Cofrog. Go and talk to your boss. As a valuable employee they will not want to lose you and may offer to help you with more funding than what the normal benefit allows. Also I would stay in DC and speak with the schools about how to research for grants to help defray the costs. Best case scenario would be to keep your job and work a lighter schedule and take classes part time that your company will pay for. I think getting a Masters is a great idea you will never regret this decision.

  100. Ah, to be that young again : ) !
    Little to contribute in terms of which school, but in terms of work: keep the job. It’s easier to keep one than to get one, and if you keep the job when you’re done with the grad degree you can look around and see if you want to leverage the degree and all those years of cumulative experience into a different job, negotiating from the position of having both the education and a decent salary. It’s so much easier to get a better job when what you already have is a good one.

  101. Congratulations! As one far beyond you in years, you’re very insightful regarding your goals — and have accomplished much.
    Two thoughts:
    First, from a financial perspective: Perhaps someone has already mentioned this in a post– but to me, the financial cost comparison of the three school options is not complete without also considering the $36,000 cost of a lost year of salary (and probably closer to 1-1/2 years of no salary for a 16 month program, bringing up the true financial impact of the “cheaper” option to be just as pricey: (10,757 tuition +36,654 year’s lost salary + (3074 x 4) additional 4 months lost salary) = $59,618. That makes it your most expensive option!
    In addition, you have the financial impact of lost company match to your 401K and health insurance. With this added consideration, I wouldn’t consider taking on CM because it’s “cheaper” (because it’s not) but only if that is the path that best addresses your goals.

    That being said, I agree with many other posters. I’m in technology marketing, so I don’t have the insightful into public policy — but it seems that DC is the place to be, so I would be slow to leave a job you love in the city that offers career growth and opportunity in the field you are pursuing. I pursued my MBA while working and while finishing it didn’t pay off with a raise in that job (nor did I expect it to), it did in the long run as it was table stakes for any new job at a new company. So I wouldn’t necessarily expect a raise after earning an MS or MPP — but expect that it would be a basic requirement going forward with new opportunities.

    Keeping your current job has a lot of advantages beyond the financial. You are currently working in the field and there’s an opportunity to bring what you’re learning at school into practice at work — and vice versa. While you may not want to continue at your current job after earning a degree, having a job you enjoy in a field you are committed to while searching for the next opportunity gives you an advantage. As others have said, it’s easier to get a job when you already have one!

    Second, while your concern about pursuing a masters while working is understandable, it’s very doable. Most people I know worked while going for a masters. I worked full time, traveled frequently for business (I’d spend the day before copying the pages from the text I needed…) and bought and maintained a new condo. But you’ll find you get very focused on what needs to be done and waste less time. I still had time for friends, family and exercise…just not as much. Plus, you’ll be meeting new people in your program…and school becomes part of your social life. My program was 2-3/4 years (we went through summers and holiday) and looking back, while I know it was hectic and overwhelming at times, I truly don’t remember the details! Time goes fast, and in no time, you’ll have the degree.
    I wish you good luck and success.

  102. Emily your financial behavior has given you the luxury of these choices – congrats!

    You seem to like new experiences – all the traveling you have done.

    My experience is that the more I put into school, the more I got out of it: optional lectures, time to discuss with fellow students, internships to try new things, time to read and really think. This would mean going to school FT to really “suck the marrow out of life.”

    However, if going to graduate school is really about just ticking off the degree box, then do it PT to keep your financial life as intact as possible.

    Would your current employer let you take a LOA for 16 months?

    The bottom line is there is no bad choice. Where do you feel led via prayer?

  103. this sounds like me 15 years ago! My short story: I started the Georgetown program but realized I really wanted a PhD after one semester and dropped out.

    One thing to consider when comparing finances of Carnegie Mellon. You will have the opportunity cost of your salary. Yes, you can get a part time job, but it won’t be as lucrative as your full time salary. As far as workload, the Georgetown program is compatible with full time work and a life. BUT, much of the program is about the network and you will feel much less a part of the school as part time.

    Another question is where geographically you want to end up. If you want to return to DC after Carnegie Mellon(and it may be a must depending on policy area), don’t leave DC because the network is very important.

  104. A lot of awesome advice here. My two Cents: don’t let the workload intimidate you. You can most definitely Keep your Job and go to School at the same time. Is it hard? Of course it’s hard! For the first sixth months I power napped on te bus rides from work to school, I clearly remember a few nights when I cried myself to sleep, thinking and worrying that I bit off more than I could chew. But then something amazing happened: I adjusted! I found a Routine and made it work! Your greatest Advantage now is that you are Young, you can adapt to all sorts of requirements if you have the Determination.

  105. Hi there! I’m in the UK so our specific education and finance systems are different obviously from USA, but as an (old?!) 54 year old let me share. I left university with a graduate degree at 21 and did various jobs; then aged 25(!) I embarked on 3 years of very hard work, working fulltime, (sometimes also long distance travelling to clients) and studying to become a Chartered Accountant. True I missed out on a lot of social fun during those years, but it opened the door to high salary, senior management roles. In turn this enabled me over time to buy a house (with a mortgage), go on mega-holidays, save a bit and eventually leave the rat race (at age 42). Now am volunteering for a charity, and due to pay-off the mortgage in 6 months. So don’t tie yourself down but if you put in the hours now it will pay off in the future. Good luck!

  106. I am biased towards working while going to school for one reason that I didn’t think of before I decided to do it myself. When you are taking steps to get an advanced degree while working, you send a signal to your employer that you’re not content sticking around in your current position/pay. While I was getting my MBA part-time and working full-time, this set me apart from other co-workers and I believe was part of why my income increased significantly while I was in school. It increased so much that I was actually making a lot more than the typical post-MBA income while I was still working on my MBA in the hopes that they could keep me after graduation instead of me leaving the company. I did end up leaving the company to pursue a different career path, but my financial position was significantly better having gone to school part-time vs full-time.

    I’m not a pro with recruiting and career prospects for someone with an MPP but I would say the only argument for Georgetown is if the network of employers looking to hire Georgetown grads is significantly different than Johns Hopkins. For business school, this is critical. An MBA from a school that doesn’t have recruiters proactively coming on campus is useless unless you have your own network to leverage for a job. My guess is that this may be less of a concern since both schools are very reputable, in the same general area of the country, and you already have a network in your field in DC. It is also worth pointing out that should you pursue Johns Hopkins and accelerate to the 2 year track, you’ll end up paying $5,250 more than the amount shown above, narrowing the gap to Georgetown.

  107. It sounds to me like your company appreciates you and is willing to take a chance on you if they promoted you without the degree already. If the culture of your company would allow it without stringing yourself up – maybe explaining you education and career goals (without mentioning the alternative lifestyle later on goals 🙂 ) along with your obstacles and concerns, but desire to stay there would open up more options for you. I know you said you may discuss with them going part time, but maybe they will let you take a leave so you can focus on your education or maybe they will offer a more flexible work schedule or work from PA if you end up going there. IF the environment of your company is supportive and encouraging, I think it would be worth showing your options to them and seeing if they offer solutions that may not seem available from your current view.

  108. Emily, you have great options in front of you with a solid financial grounding, very well done! I faced similar options when I was 26 and choose to go with the full time education option. It was fantastic!
    Yes, you must forgo your salary while in school, but the quality of life during your education–may more than made up for it. Also, you will meet lifelong contacts that you can form genuine relationships with. Moreover, I found the new connections I made through career services and colleagues, opened the door to opportunities I would never have had if I stayed with the same company.
    Signing bonuses were also popular coming out of a graduate program, which offset the cost of the education. Overall, it came down to lifestyle for me. I wanted to really enjoy the educational experience, meet new people and immerse myself in studying. It can be done either way, but I encourage you to reflect on what type of lifestyle you want to have for the next 4 years. Wishing you all the best!

  109. To tell you the truth I’d pick the program that most interests you and that you think will take you where you want to go. While the 2 DC schools cost more, you’d be giving up your full time job which cancels out a lot of that. Ten or even 35 thousand dollars one way or the other should only sway you if the programs and locations seem equivalent to you. In the long run, the better school and program will get you closer to your goals. If the difference were a hundred thousand or more, then the money would play into it more. I’ve watched some young people making similar decisions lately and those that aimed highest came out best. It sounds as if you’ve done your due diligence to determine that a graduate degree will make a difference in your careet and finances so pick the best program for you.

  110. Wow, Emily, you certainly are in much better financial shape than most of your peers. I would have to agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods, that you should pull Georgetown off the table, since it costs significantly more than your other two options, and would not necessarily give you that much more in a salary bump. Assuming that it makes sense salary-wise to add a graduate degree, I would go for Johns Hopkins. You can continue working, and potentially keep climbing the ladder at your current job, and it is flexible for you to do over 2-3 years in person or online. Yes, it’s more expensive than Carnegie Mellon, but it would not require you to move your entire life and start from square one with looking for a job when you graduate. As they say, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. You will have to get creative with your monthly budget (maybe cutting out the extras like the Class Pass and give less to your church), but I bet you could swing the monthly tuition bill, especially if you stretch it out over a few years. If you can avoid taking out student loans, definitely do that. Good luck with your decision!

  111. Emily, forgive me if this has been suggested as I don’t have time to read all the comments, but have you discussed the possibility of a leave of absence with your employer? If they value you and see a future for you with them they may be willing to let you go for the time it would take to get your degree, especially if you would be able to come back over breaks. Depending on the work you do you may also be able to work remotely. Even if the answer is no, you might be able to offer to transition into an intern position, or some lower rank, that would keep your relationship with your current company current, but still let you leave to get the less expensive degree.

  112. Hey Emily! Congrats on having all those options! I only had one major consideration. You mentioned wanting to increase your skills in your field. I would take that into consideration when choosing where to get your degree. What are you getting with the money you are investing; because a degree is just that, an investment in yourself and your future. How do the programs differ? I am in a very different field, but have a M.S. degree and know that, at least in my field, it’s not just the letters behind your name that matter. It’s the program, the faculty, and yes, even the reputation of the school in your field. I would advise that you look at the faculty in each program and find out their specialties. Do they align with the skills you’d like to acquire? Compare each program’s required courses and see how they differ. Is one program a better fit for you? Just having the letters behind your name is a boon, yes, but most employers now are looking for much more than just the degree itself. I completed my grad program and found a job at 26, but I must say, the job hunting experience isn’t what I expected. The master’s is the new bachelor’s, so make sure you stand out by choosing a program that will align the best with your goals in your career. After all, you want to make sure that the money you do spend is well worth it. It would be a shame to choose a cheaper degree, only to regret it later. Make sure the degree you’re getting is the one you want. Don’t invest time and money into something that won’t ultimately help you get to where you’d like to be.

  113. There are a lot of comments so sorry if I’m repeating anything! Couple of thoughts:
    1. Re. the grad school decision, I’d probably add another layer of complexity to the financial calculations. Do some quick math on how the options affect your net worth: a) will you be spending savings etc. for living expenses if you go full time b) how much would you miss out on contributing to your 401K and not getting that company match c) could you reasonably expect that to be offset by a large salary increase when you graduate so would it be a wash in three years or does one route leave you better positioned?
    2. I would maybe consider maxing out a Roth after you’ve met the company match in your 401k then going back to the 401k. That gives you a little more flexibility since you may want to go the FIRE route.
    3. In terms of motivation – I have big travel dreams and want to stop working full time but with both not in the cards for the near future I know it can be hard to stay motivated. I do a few things to keep me on track: a) listen to podcasts etc of other peoples finance and travel stories b) track my net worth and savings rate monthly and make it a bit of a competition to keep creeping up the percentages (I worked crazy hours at my 3rd job in Jan/Feb so I finally broke the 50% savings rate mark, though that many hours are not sustainable!) c) I write my goals and dreams down in a nice art journal – committing them to paper in a really definite way is helpful!
    4. A story from my personal experience re. House buying – for years I was absolutely adamant that I was going to buy a house. It was my major goal and where I had planned to put all my savings. I kept a.very significant down payment in a savings account for that purpose – where it was gradually whittled away (not completely but I had a long stretch where I was NOT being good with my.money and kept dipping in to this) and depreciated in real terms. 10 years later I still hadn’t bought a house and I invested everything except my emergency fund. It chokes me.when I think about how much I lost in terms of investment gains by being out of the market for so long. If I’d been investing and saving over those years the way I am now I’d probably have quit my job and be traveling through India right now…! Which is to say – think long and hard about whether you really want/ need to purchase a house. I can’t overstate how much I value my cheap rent and flexibility these days. I’m sad that I didn’t invest well but at least my.capital isn’t tied up in a massive liability (yes, a house can be an asset and you’re clearly super-savvy but for most people they’re really not!)
    Good luck, you’re doing a fantastic job!!!

  114. Hi Emily,
    I worked through my masters and Phd programs. It was a long process, but I was frugal and the opportunities are endless now. I took a non-trraditional approach and the work experience has been great.

    I would go for the ecoconomics degree- Outside of DC it might open you to other options, especially if there is a quantitative componrnt to it. Those skills can be applied broadly in case /when your focus switches.

    Regarding your approach to giving – I applaud you for this! One option that would have long term benefit tax wise would be if you set up a Vanguard account just for giving. Instead of giving to organizations now, you invest the money. In the future, when you have a larger income and / a home and need deductions you can donate the shares directly to some organizations. Example: i put in 10k. it grows over time to 20k. I donate this amount and i get to write off the full 20k . Some people like to give regularly and make an immediate difference – so it might not be for you, but is an option many dont consider. (plus all the standard caveats that you might lose money, tax laws could change, etc)

  115. Emily’s life style is really awesome without any concrete goals and small ones. These goals are fulfilled with in a while. And there is no end process and every moment of life is a goal and adventurous. The way makes the life so happy.

  116. I think Emily is really limiting herself only looking at those three schools. Speaking as someone with received their Master’s in Public Policy AND someone who currently lives in DC, I’d argue that there are several high quality schools in DC that she missed or decided to not apply to. George Washington University ranks at the top (and is very pricey), but George Mason University and The University of Maryland are both programs that are very competitive and relatively inexpensive. Additionally, they both offer graduate assistant opportunities that significantly decrease the cost of tuition. This discount, while not as generous as when I (or Mrs. Frugalwoods) attended, is still significant AND can be directly related to your desired career.

  117. Hi Emily,
    Someone else might have already suggested this, but have you considered asking for a sabbatical while you go to Carnegie Mellon?
    That way you could finish your masters more quickly and without the stress of working full-time and still return to your job that you love.
    If your employer appreciates you they will hold a position for you while you study, after all it’s only 16 months. Plus you will come back with more skills and experience. You could also consider asking your roommates if they would be alright with you subletting your room if you want to move back into the same house.
    You’re tuition would be so much less that with your parents help and decreasing some of your expenses and eliminating travel while studying i think it would be worth it.

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